Premier Doug Ford’s government is launching a massive taxpayer-funded advertising blitz attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon-pricing plan, the Star has learned.
Sources say the Progressive Conservatives have quietly begun preparing two 30-second TV commercials aimed at attacking what Ford calls “a job-killing carbon tax,” a levy that takes effect Monday.
“This is not a fight we are shying away from,” said one senior Ontario government official, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations.
“You don’t need a carbon tax to fight climate change.”
The insider said a multi-million dollar ad campaign on television, radio, in print, and online will launch in the week after Finance Minister Vic Fedeli’s April 11 budget.
One proposed ad, set in a gas station, points out that Ottawa’s scheme will add about 5 cents to a litre of gasoline.
The spot notes that will add a lot of nickels to the price of food and other consumer goods because of increased shipping costs.
A second provisional ad depicts the federal government as a hand reaching into a vehicle taking some coins from a motorist.
The same hand is also shown inserting change into a thermostat as an elderly woman sets the temperature in her home.
Sources say finishing touches are still being done on the commercials, which have not yet been filmed.
The premier will underscore his credentials on pocketbook issues Monday when he touts the official end of the $30 Drive Clean emissions test for passenger cars and trucks. Only commercial vehicles will be tested.
Ford’s advertising comes as his government has earmarked $30 million to fight the federal carbon-pricing measures. Less than $1 million of that has already been spent on an ongoing court challenge.
Under Trudeau’s program, which is designed curb greenhouse gas emissions, an average Ontario household would pay $244 more a year on gasoline, natural gas and home heating oil, but receive $300 in rebates for a net gain of $56 annually. That would be bankrolled by big industrial polluters.
The province’s proposed ads appear to contravene the old Government Advertising Act, watered down by the previous Liberal administration in 2015, which the Conservatives have promised to strengthen.
While in opposition, the Tories vowed to revive the auditor general’s powers to veto commercials deemed to be politically partisan.
In her annual report last December, auditor general Bonnie Lysyk noted her office is no longer empowered to look at taxpayer-funded ads for “factual accuracy, context or tone to determine whether an item is partisan.”
“We recommend that the previous version of the Government Advertising Act, 2004 as it appeared on June 3, 2015, be reinstated,” Lysyk wrote at the time.
In response, the Tories promised action.
“The government will endeavor to explore options for the review of government advertising. Expenditure management is a priority for this government,” the treasury board said.
“In support of this priority, the government will continually review advertising paid for by the government of Ontario to ensure it is delivered in the most efficient and effective manner, and delivers value for taxpayer dollars.”
Lysyk had publicly criticized the previous Liberal administration’s ads that promoted Ontario’s now-scrapped cap-and-trade environmental alliance with Quebec and California.
In 2016, she objected to a commercial with environmentalist David Suzuki speaking to a crowded auditorium of children where he warned them that “if we don’t act now, the damage could be irreversible.”
“Who will have to live with the consequences? You,” Suzuki lectured the kids.
But Lysyk felt that ad was designed “to create a positive impression of government.”
That sparked then deputy Tory leader Sylvia Jones, now Ford’s community safety minister, to table a private members’ bill to restore the auditor’s power over government advertising.
“If the Liberal party wants to spend money promoting their policies, have at it. But this is taxpayers’ money that should be going to important issues,” Jones said at the time.
Former Grit premier Dalton McGuinty introduced the Government Advertising Act 15 years after a flurry of Tory ads under his predecessors, Ernie Eves and Mike Harris.
Wynne amended it in 2015 amid complaints from Liberals that it was too restrictive.
When the province harmonized the provincial sales tax with the goods and service tax in 2010, the government was unable to tout any of the benefits to consumers of streamlining the levies because the auditor general refused to allow it.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie