WINNIPEG - Manitoba Opposition Leader Brian Pallister called Wednesday for an independent review of all government advertising to remove any partisan messaging, and promised to establish one if elected premier next year.
Pallister said the NDP government's Steady Growth, Good Jobs campaign — billboards, signs and media advertisements that tout the government's infrastructure plan — is a misuse of taxpayer money because it promotes the governing party.
"I'm asking the government to agree ... to have an analysis done by the auditor general, an independent examination, to make sure that these millions of dollars are being spent fairly and honestly and not being used by the government to promote their election campaign."
Documents obtained by The Canadian Press this week show the government spent close to $1 million in the last fiscal year on the Steady Growth, Good Jobs Campaign. The campaign was launched in 2013 after the government stirred up controversy by raising the provincial sales tax. It is aimed at showing taxpayers that the money is being used on infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges.
The campaign includes hundreds of roadside signs that bear the slogan in large letters. Pallister has said the signs are government promotion, partly because they do not contain any details about the construction work being done.
The government denies the signs are partisan and has said the ad campaign serves taxpayers by showing them their money is being put to good use.
"Each sign represents a project that is creating jobs and building our province," Andrew Tod, a press secretary to Finance Minister Greg Dewar, wrote in an email.
"Each sign also represents a project and jobs that would be threatened from Brian Pallister’s reckless cuts," he added, referring to Pallister's promise to balance the budget.
Pallister wrote to the auditor general recently to ask that he conduct a review of the campaign, but the auditor responded that he had no authority to investigate because Manitoba has no standards for government advertising. As such, an audit could only be done if all three political parties in the legislature agree.
Pallister called on the NDP to support the audit, and promised that if elected premier, he would permanently give the auditor the right to review all government advertising and block ads that are too partisan.
"The people of Manitoba are telling me they don't like to see their tax dollars wasted on government promoting themselves," he said.
Ontario is the only province that has its auditor general review government ads for partisan messaging, but it does not cover construction-site signage. Pallister said he would go further and include such signs.
The Steady Growth campaign costs are in addition to other government campaigns. Documents obtained by The Canadian Press Wednesday show the government spent $232,121 in a three-week period last month to promote the provincial budget.