05/26/2015 01:55 EDT | Updated 05/26/2016 05:59 EDT

Ontario Government Changes Partisan Ad Rules After AG Warning

TORONTO - Ontario's auditor general says Liberal government amendments to its government advertising rules don't really ease her concerns that the public could end up paying for partisan ads.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has said that changes to those rules in the budget would reduce her office to rubber-stamping government ads, even ones she feels are partisan.

The Liberals say they're bringing in changes because some ads were rejected for reasons they see as unnecessary, though Lysyk says fewer than one per cent of more than 7,200 ads have been rejected in the last 10 years.

The new legislation was going to define partisan by banning the use of an elected member's picture, name, voice or the colour or logo associated with the political party.

The Liberals now say they'll include in that definition ads that directly identify and criticize a recognized party or member of the legislature as ones that would be banned as partisan.

Lysyk says that is still not as strong as the current version of the act, which says it can't be a primary objective of an ad to "foster a positive impression of the governing party or a negative impression of a person or entity who is critical of the government."

The new wording doesn't prohibit the government from using public money to run ads that give off a negative impression of critics who aren't other MPPs.

When Lysyk first sounded the alarm about the government's changes, her example of how a partisan ad could get around the new rules was one that said, "This government has introduced great policies on health, on environment, on jobs. This government gets us, but the other guys don't."

The new amendment appears to answer that specific example, she said.

"It makes me wish I had more in there," Lysyk said.

Lysyk said once the law is in force she would have to follow it, but could still voice her opinion on ads she feels are partisan.

Progressive Conservative Lisa MacLeod said the Liberal amendment doesn't really change anything.

"You're still going to see the government put forward ads that the auditor general will find inappropriate and make her job more difficult," she said.

The government could run attack ads against a federal policy, she said.

New Democrat Catherine Fife said the new rules wouldn't stop the government from running an ad against a group of citizens or residents who disagreed with them.

"They're looking to manipulate the messaging out of Queen's Park," Fife said. "Really it's a slap in the face to democracy as far as we see it."