Domino theory

With a provincial election less than four months away, TV viewers in B.C. have been treated to a flood of advertisements that explain what a great job the Christy Clark government is doing.

One 30-second spot uses dominoes (actually, they’re smartphones set up like dominoes) to represent the world’s tumbling economies. Amidst the clacking chaos, B.C. stands strong, apparently. Viewers would be forgiven for thinking they’re watching election ads, but these are government ads, paid for by tax dollars.

B.C. taxpayers, it seems, need to be told the economy is strong and the Clark government isn’t afraid to be the one to tell them.

This week, New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix promised that, if elected, he’ll give the auditor general the power to kill partisan government advertising.

Such ads are something that politicians always yell about when they’re in opposition, but discover are really useful when they’re in power. After Dix’s announcement, Victoria Times-Colonist columnist Les Leyne dug out a story of mine that ran in the Vancouver Sun in February, 1998.

The NDP was in government then, and Dix was chief of staff to then-premier Glen Clark. That Clark government was running a $2 million campaign with the slogan “Jobs for B.C. It’s working” As Leyne writes:

There were the same problems as today:

• Employment numbers dropped during the campaign, which negated the entire thrust.

• The Opposition Liberals condemned them as a misleading waste of tax dollars.

• The auditor general of the day — George Morfitt — was complaining that there were no rules to keep propaganda out of government advertising.

He had earlier urged a ban on partisan information in public government communications. The premier’s communications director, Geoff Meggs — now a Vancouver councillor — offered a hollow argument that the government had an obligation to report on its initiatives. Particularly if they were good news ones.

As Leyne says, “Amazing to think 17 years after the auditor general flagged it, we’re still waiting for common sense to break out on this front.”

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