Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Revival of Government Propaganda

“Canada’s Economic Action Plan”. That is probably a familiar phrase to Canadians across the country. However identifying what the Economic Action Plan actually is is a more difficult task. The slogan has been assigned to the federal budgets over the past few years and so basically everything the federal government has done since the “program’s” inception has been part of it. More narrowly it has been used to label infrastructure projects and various funds to support... something. I trail off there because the Economic Action Plan is often more about the appearance of action than real results. Take for example the promises of trades’ education. The last time I spoke to someone in the field the promises of support result in nothing in reality. Yet the ads continued to play hyping programs that support training that essentially do not exist.

The millions of dollars spent on the Economic Action Plan ads have far more to do with comforting the public that the government is combating the recession than actually providing information or creating programs. As outrageous as the advertising is, and skewed to show the federal government in a positive light, it has become part of the norm of Canadian political life for the last few years. 

Lately though it appears the federal government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper (CPC – Calgary Southwest, AB) is preparing to set the groundwork for the next election through public funds to support his party. The first advertisement is from Health Canada offering dramatic and frankly frightening consequences of marijuana use on children. The ad is unprecedented as far as I am aware and its arrival is clearly targeted at Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC) and his party’s support for the legalization of marijuana. The Conservatives have run ads attacking Trudeau’s position and often uses his position as a talking point. Using public funds to clearly attack the policy of a rival is wrong and an abuse of power.

Yesterday, however, I saw the new Economic Action Plan ad touting tax cuts. Why do tax cuts require advertising? The simple truth is they do not. Most will happen automatically so it's not as though Canadians need to be prompted to apply for them. This is an effort to celebrate the government and boost its popularity. It damages the non-partisan nature of the Canadian government itself and further deteriorates the health of our democracy.

Propaganda has always been part of politics, but there were certain understandings about what was and was not proper. I think most people would suggest that if the government of the day has not crossed the ethical line then they have blurred it significantly. This isn’t the government advertising tourism, or a public health campaign, or some other justifiable plan, it is a celebration of government policy. These are increasingly partisan ads. They may not violate any laws but they violate the spirit of our system of government.

For further reading on this I strongly recommend John Ivison’s piece on this. 

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