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B.C. Taxpayers' Money Shouldn't Be Spent On Partisan Ads

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It is no secret that political advertising during an election campaign can be brutal, distasteful and shocking.

Campaigns are an opportunity for political parties to bolster their own favour and increase their support, while simultaneously criticizing the opposition. Unsavoury advertising has become par for the course during election season.

But this year, one advertising campaign has been turning heads for a different reason.

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British Columbia Premier and Liberal leader Christy Clark. (Photo: Andy Clark/Reuters)

On March 20, 2017, a retired B.C. resident filed a notice of claim under the Class Proceedings Act, alleging that the B.C. Liberal party has misappropriated taxpayer money in order to fund a partisan advertising campaign.

The claim states that, since the last election, the B.C. Liberal party has raised $12.4 million for its own benefit. In spite of this, it alleges that the B.C. government, controlled by the B.C. Liberal party, is conducting taxpayer-funded partisan and nonessential advertising in order to enhance the party's own image and reputation prior to the election. These advertising campaigns include, but are not limited to, the B.C. Jobs Plan ads, WorkBC ads and Our Opportunity is Here ads.

This is a major problem.

It is generally agreed principle that the government should not use public money to bolster its own position leading into an election. A ruling political party should not exploit its position of power and gain access to public funds in order to do this.

It's hard to think that the ads have been rolled out for any other reason but to enhance the B.C. Liberal party's image.

Taxpayers should not be responsible for funding partisan advertisements or communications intended to curry favour for a particular political party. After all, that is what political donations are for.

However, the government can -- and, according to many, should -- spend tax payer dollars on advertising programs and informing the public about specific projects. This is where the lines can get blurry.

The test to determine whether advertising is partisan in nature is to determine its objective and whether or not that objective is to foster a positive image of the governing party. Nonpartisan ads should provide accurate and politically neutral information about government funding and services. If the ad is doing anything more than this, more likely than not, it's partisan. When these types of ads run prior to an election tends to enhance the case for partisanship.

By this measure the writing seems to be on the wall.

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British Columbia Premier and Liberal leader Christy Clark steps off her bus while campaigning for the provincial elections in Delta, British Columbia May 13, 2013. (Photo: Andy Clark/Reuters)

It's hard to think that the B.C. government's ads have been rolled out, ahead of this election, for any other reason but to enhance the B.C. Liberal party's positive image in the eyes of voters... all on the taxpayers' dime.

The plaintiff in this matter is a 63-year-old man who worked for TransLink prior to his retirement in 2013. In November, 2015, he was diagnosed with cancer. After undergoing surgery and experiencing the B.C. health-care system, the plaintiff concluded that the system is in dire need of improvements.

He was angered to see the government spending taxpayers' money on advertisements to bolster its own position, rather than improving health-care facilities throughout the province.

This is what led him to file the claim.

And he isn't alone.

The plaintiff is seeking a number of orders, including one that the B.C. government has breached its fiduciary duty toward him and all other taxpayers, and another finding that the B.C. Liberal party has been unjustly enriched by an unlawful use of tax dollars.

He also wants the government to be forced to disclose the total cost of all nonessential, partisan government advertising to date. He wants the government to be held accountable and to use public funds for public benefit, rather than its own.

And he isn't alone.

The claim is being funded by a GoFundMe campaign that has raised more than $10,000 over just one week.

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