Friday, December 11, 2015

Red is the new colour for the Trudeau government: "Plus les chose changent plus elles restent les mêmes" ..... eh?

Liberal red seeping into messaging on non-partisan government websites

Bill Curry
Thursday, December 10, 2015
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has directed Treasury Board President Scott Brison to "strengthen oversight on government advertising" but has not spelled out what that would entail. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Red is the new blue for the officially non-partisan websites of the government of Canada.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals came to power with a promise to end what they viewed as the Conservatives’ blatant abuse of taxpayer-funded advertising and websites to promote their partisan agenda.

Yet Liberal red is quickly working its way into public-service messaging as the new government settles into power.

A page promoting the government’s Throne Speech uses bright red headlines and some of the same phrases as the Liberal Party election platform.

Meanwhile, a Finance Canada graphic that promoted the new government’s tax-cut plan before it was passed this week presents the previous tax rates in blue – the colour of the Conservatives – and contrasts this with new tax rates in red.

“The middle-class tax cut will provide about $3.4-billion in tax relief to about nine million Canadians,” the department states under the graphic, adding that the measures are “subject to parliamentary approval.”

In opposition, the Liberals criticized the Conservatives for promoting measures that had not yet been approved by Parliament.

“It’s using party-defined colours and associates them with a government, so it’s coming close to the line if not over the line,” said Jonathan Rose, a Queen’s University political science professor and member of the Advertising Review Board for the Auditor General of Ontario.

Dr. Rose said the federal government’s websites are clearly in transition.

“We’re in a clear state of flux about the visual corporate identity of the government of Canada,” he said.

A spokesman for Finance Canada said the graphic was not intended to be political.

“The colours and shades were a design choice and not intended to symbolize any political party,” David Barnabe said.

Later Thursday evening, Finance Canada contacted The Globe to say that the graphic would be removed from the website due to the unintentional overlap with party colours.

The Prime Minister has given Treasury Board President Scott Brison a mandate letter that instructs him to “strengthen oversight on government advertising and modernize the communications policy of the government of Canada to reflect the modern digital environment.”

Mr. Trudeau has not spelled out what that will mean, but in opposition the Liberals said they would be guided by the rules the Ontario government introduced to govern political ads and messages on websites that are referenced in advertising.

The Ontario law, adopted in 2004, requires the provincial Auditor-General to approve ads before they are made public in order to ensure they are non-partisan. Websites that are referenced in government ads are subject to the law. A 2015 update to the law states that an item is partisan – and not allowed – if “it includes, to a significant degree, a colour associated with the governing party.”

The Auditor-General has warned that the full package of the 2015 reforms will water down the provincial legislation and allow more partisan ads. The office said the changes allowed the provincial Liberal government to run ads about the proposed Ontario pension plan that could have benefited the federal Liberals during this year’s election campaign.

“These advertisements could have been perceived as having a partisan objective, especially since the advertising campaign was set to run right up to federal election voting day,” the Auditor-General stated earlier this month in an annual report.

At a news conference on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said new government policies in this area are currently being developed.

“First of all, this will be the government of Canada and not a government in an unparliamentary language,” he said, in an apparent reference to the use of “Harper Government” under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

“Whether it’s around government advertising used to promote the government without any specific [policy] messages to pass [along], which we’re going to be addressing, or a partisan flavour to our functioning, we’re going to remove that.”

NDP finance critic Guy Caron said he’s looking forward to seeing clear rules from the government on what kind of messaging will be allowed.

“It’s basically a branding war that’s taking place that started under the Conservatives,” he said, adding that the government of Canada should be non-partisan. Mr. Caron said another concern with Finance Canada’s chart is that it does not clearly illustrate how high-income Canadians will benefit from the tax cuts, calling it “misleading.”

“If [the new rules] actually remove the partisanship element from government of Canada advertisements or any other public communications, then I’m sure we’ll be all in favour of it,” he said.

Follow Bill Curry on Twitter: @curryb

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