Ontario launches ad blitz against federal carbon pricing

Ontario launches ad blitz against federal carbon pricing

It’s a different kind of climate change.

Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have launched their first taxpayer-funded TV commercial attacking the federal carbon-pricing plan as nickel-and-diming Ontarians.

The 30-second spot, part of Ford’s $30-million push against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s carbon plan, depicts nickels cascading as the bounty from a casino slot machine.

“You’re paying a nickel more per litre,” a female narrator intones as coins flow from the nozzle as a woman tries to fill up her car at a gas station.

“Then, your heating bills are a few nickels higher,” the narrator continues as a man reading the newspaper on his couch watches change spill out of the vent in his living room onto his hardwood floor.

“And food’s up a nickel or two,” the narrator adds against a backdrop of supermarket shoppers being showered with nickels flying off of shelves.

“This will cost Ontario families $648 a year,” she says.

“Ontario has a better way: holding the biggest polluters accountable; reducing trash; and keeping our lakes clean. A carbon tax isn’t the only way to fight climate change.”

In the ad, there is no sign of the mandatory blue stickers highlighting the cost of the federal carbon pricing. Gas stations must post the decals on every pump under threat of fines up to $10,000 a day.

The Star first revealed the massive advertising blitz on March 31, the day before Ottawa’s measures took effect.

At the time, the Tories were considering an ad that depicted the federal government as a hand reaching into a vehicle and stealing some coins from the motorist.

That same hand was also shown inserting change into a thermostat as an elderly woman sets the temperature in her home.

The province’s ad does not mention the federal tax rebates designed to offset higher fuel costs. For a family of four, it is set to rise from $307 now to $718 annually by 2022 for a net gain of $70 per household that year.

Trudeau’s program, designed curb greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say contribute to climate change, is being bankrolled by big industrial polluters.

While the new ad appears to contravene the old Government Advertising Act, watered down by the previous Liberal administration in 2015, the Conservatives are in no rush to amend the legislation despite an election pledge to do so.

While in opposition, the Tories promised to revive the auditor general’s powers to veto ads deemed politically partisan.

In her annual report last year, auditor general Bonnie Lysyk noted she is no longer empowered to look at taxpayer-funded commercials 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,” she wrote in December.

Lysyk had publicly blasted previous Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne’s ads that promoted Ontario’s cap-and-trade environmental alliance with Quebec and California. Ford scrapped that pact last summer.

In 2016, the auditor objected to an ad featuring environmentalist David Suzuki speaking to an auditorium of children, where he lectured them that “if we don’t act now, the damage could be irreversible.”

“Who will have to live with the consequences? You,” Suzuki told the youngsters.

However, Lysyk believed the spot was designed “to create a positive impression of government.”

The then-deputy PC leader Sylvia Jones, now Ford’s solicitor general, tabled a private members’ bill to restore the auditor’s veto power.

NDP MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex) has revived Jones’s bill in hopes of shaming the Tories into keeping their promise.

The Government Advertising Act was introduced 15 years ago by then-premier Dalton McGuinty, but Wynne loosened the restrictions in 2015.

Ford’s government is also challenging the constitutionality of the levy in court.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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