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Canada Job Grant ad 0:34
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The federal government blanketed the internet with ads and bought pricey TV spots during playoff hockey as part a $2.5-million publicity blitz to promote a skills training program that doesn’t yet exist, CBC News has learned.
TV commercials for the Canada Job Grant often ran twice per game last May during the widely watched Hockey Night in Canada NHL playoff broadcasts on CBC. There were ads on radio, as well.
“The Canada Job Grant will result in one important thing – a new or better job,” said the reassuring voice-over in the TV ads.
The problem: The program was never launched and is still on hold. The job grants were announced in the 2013 federal budget, but it called for an agreement with the provinces, which have so far refused to buy in.
Employment and Social Development Canada spent between $2.5 million and $2.6 million on the ad campaign. That figure excludes radio ads funded by the Finance Department.
“Spending millions of dollars to advertise a program that doesn’t even exist is like flushing tax dollars down the toilet,” Liberal finance critic Scott Brison said.
$11-million publicity push
CBC News has also learned that that advertising cash came from an $11-million fund set aside last year for Employment and Social Development Canada to promote the government as a job creator.
Before the Canada Job Grant TV ad went to air, the government paidEnvironics Research Group almost $70,000 to conduct market research. Focus groups saw a near-final version of the commercial.
Environics concluded: “The main message was consistently seen as positive and one that inspired hope…. In light of seeing the new ad for the Canada Job Grant, most now believe the Government of Canada is on the right track regarding skills training and the job market in Canada.”
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“Their own research suggests that people get a positive impression of the ads,” Queens University political science professor, Jonathan Rose said. “Whether that means they convey accurate information is another story.”
A government commissioned survey done post-campaign showed only two per cent of the 292 people polled who saw or heard the ad also caught the disclaimer that the program didn’t yet exist. It also found only 18 per cent of viewers understood tax dollars paid for the advertising.
Ads ruled misleading
After receiving numerous viewer complaints, Advertising Standards Canada, the advertising industry’s self-regulating body, ruled the TV commercial was misleading because the job grant program hadn’t been approved.
“The commercial omitted relevant information,” ASC concluded in a report. The report didn’t name the government because the ad campaign was already over.
The proposed job grants would give workers $15,000 each for training, with the provinces kicking in one-third of the cost. But provinces have yet to sign on, complaining the proposed program claws back $300 million in federal funds now used to help disadvantaged workers.
“We do not believe, the way the program is designed, that it will work,” Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne said at a premiers meeting last July.
Quebec threatened to opt out. There’s no word yet on when an agreement might be reached.
Asked to comment on the ad campaign, a spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada said, “The government of Canada’s top priorities are creating jobs, economic growth and long-term prosperity.”
Harper blasted Liberals over ads
In his first question as opposition leader, in 2002, Stephen Harper took the then Liberal government to task over their advertising spending and the emerging sponsorship scandal.
“Will the prime minister stop the waste and abuse right now and order a freeze of all discretionary government advertising?” he asked in the House of Commons on May 21, 2002.
During its peak, the Liberal government spent $111 million on advertising, in 2002-2003. Harper’s current Conservatives doled out $136.3 million in 2009-2010, their biggest advertising budget yet on record.
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The NDP made Prime Minister Stephen Harper their first target as Parliament resumed today, questioning what he knew about a deal between Senator Mike Duffy and his former chief of staff.
NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen and whip Nycole Turmel also set out a proposal to stop government MPs from pushing committees in-camera.
In question period, New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair set his sights on Harper, who left Thursday morning for Brussels to sign a tentative trade deal with the European Union.
Mulcair listed a number of people close to Harper who are now under scrutiny over corruption or other allegations of wrongdoing, including senators, Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and his former parliamentary secretary, MP Dean Del Mastro, who faces charges over his election spending.
“These are chosen members of the prime minister’s own inner circle implicated in scandal,” Mulcair said.
“The prime minister needs to take responsibility for the climate of corruption that he created. Instead the prime minister flies off to Brussels … When will the prime minister stand up in this House and tell the truth to Canadians?”
Pierre Poilievre, minister of state for democratic reform, accused the NDP of being anti-trade.
“Once again the leader of the Opposition attacks our prime minister for travelling abroad to conclude the biggest trade agreement since NAFTA,” he said.
“The NDP would simply like to build a big brick wall around Canada. A brick wall that would keep out 80,000 jobs, that would keep away 500 million customers, that would keep away $1,000 in increased income for the average family.”
Limiting secret committee meetings
Earlier Thursday, Cullen and Turmel announced New Democrat MPs would push for committees to be more open.
Committees can go behind closed doors for planning purposes or when preparing a report, but Conservative MPs have been pushing them in-camera more and more than previous governments. They often use the tactic to kill opposition motions in secret. Conservative MPs form the majority on all parliamentary committees.
MPs are also forbidden from discussing what goes on behind closed doors afterward.
“The minute Conservatives don’t like a discussion that’s taking place in any of our committees, they go in-camera and shut the door on Canadians,” Cullen said.
“The abuse of this in-camera tool is undermining the work of all members of Parliament and increasing the skepticism of the Canadian public.”
New Democrat MPs will present motions in all committees next week, Cullen and Turmel said, laying out specific instances in which they can go in-camera:
- To discuss wages, salaries and other employee benefits, contracts or other labour or personal matters.
- For briefings concerning national security.
- To discuss draft reports.
The motion also mandates that minutes be taken, including how each member votes when votes are taken.
NDP on offensive
“As parliamentarians, we must be accountable to those who elected us,” Cullen said, adding that towns and school boards use the same rules the NDP want to see in Parliament.
“In a healthy democracy, shutting the doors on debate should be limited to only the most exceptional circumstances.”
The Official Opposition hit the Hill on the offensive this morning.
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus raised a question of privilege, which the party announced Wednesday. Angus is asking House Speaker Andrew Scheer to find Prime Minister Stephen Harper misled the House, when he said nobody in the Prime Minister’s Office knew about a deal between Wright and Senator Mike Duffy.
Wright paid back Duffy’s wrongly claimed Senate expenses. An ongoing RCMP investigation into the payment, and into Duffy’s expense claims, alleges Wright told them three other PMO staffers, plus Senator Irving Gerstein, about the agreement.
The Senate committee in charge of financial and administrative matters, the board of internal economy, met Thursday at 9 a.m. ET.
The Senate as a whole will resume at 2 p.m. with a new government leader, Claude Carignan, and deputy leader, Yonah Martin. But unlike his predcessor, Carignan will not sit in cabinet.
Harper has removed the Senate leader from cabinet for the first time in 50 years.
One of the Senate’s first acts was to move to suspend without pay Duffy and Pamela Wallin, who is also under investigation by the RCMP.
- NDP ploy ensures no reprieve from Senate expenses scandal for PM Harper (macleans.ca)
- They’re Baaaack (theepochtimes.com)
- NDP says PM in contempt of Parliament for misleading answers on Senate scandal (macleans.ca)
- Opposition renew calls for details of Mike Duffy visit as Senate expense affair heated up (o.canada.com)