Question Period on Thursday, March 2, 2017 featured debate about government advertising between NDP leader John Horgan and Hon. Andrew Wilkinson, Minister of Advances Education.
J. Horgan: Anyone who has a television set, anyone who has a radio and anyone who has access to the Internet has been inundated and swamped by feel-good government ads trying to buy back the support of British Columbians after 16 years of neglect of critical health services, critical education services and a host of other things that government could better spend that money on.
For example, I’ve been watching hockey games, and it’s more difficult. The Canucks aren’t as good as they could be, but the ads are killing me. I can’t watch my own hockey team anymore because the government is so bent on self-satisfying ads.
I want to ask the minister responsible. I believe it’s the minister of propaganda over there. I want to ask him when we can expect the ads telling British Columbians about the 28 percent increases in their hydro bills. Or when can we expect the ads telling us about the $1.5 billion that ICBC has lost over the past three years? Or, better yet, when will we see the ads that tell British Columbians that their medical services premiums have doubled since the B.C. Liberals have been in power?
Hon. A. Wilkinson: It’s, of course, a pleasure to stand up and embellish upon our existing advertising campaign by answering this question.
This being a government of the highest integrity and transparency….
Madame Speaker: Members.
Madame Speaker: Members, this House will come to order.
Hon. A. Wilkinson: This government abides by the directive from the Auditor General in 2014, that advertising programs must be fact-based, must point to or provide information on government priorities and services and must engage the public, providing an opportunity to interact or comment.
All of our advertising satisfies those requirements. All of the advertising is designed to let British Columbians know about the services available to them, because this government is not ashamed of cutting $1 billion off the MSP bill….
Madame Speaker: The Leader of the Official Opposition on a supplemental.
J. Horgan: …Now, I don’t know about the rest of the people in this House, but I know that there’s an election on May 9, because it’s been on the books for 16 years. I also know that the second Tuesday in February is when the Minister of Finance stands up and delivers his budget. So I don’t know what unforeseen circumstances the minister was referring to. We know that we have a fixed date for elections. We have virtually a fixed date for delivering budgets. But somehow we had to amend the propaganda budget for unforeseen circumstances.
So a simple question — and it’s a direct one. I know he’ll appreciate that, because I’m certain I’ll get a direct answer back. Can the minister tell me how much it cost the people of B.C. to advertise during the Oscars last Sunday?
Madame Speaker: Just wait.
Hon. A. Wilkinson: The Leader of the Opposition likes to trivialize this phenomenon, to rebrand my ministry with a different name. Yet, at the same time, he mocks the issue…
Madame Speaker: Members.
Hon. A. Wilkinson: …of changing circumstances.
Let’s talk about changing circumstances. The advertising budget was set before 915 people died in British Columbia in 2016. The opioid awareness campaign started on August 31, 2016. The website has had more than 76,000 views, as it instructs people on where and how to use naloxone. If the Leader of the Opposition thinks this is a subject of mockery, he needs to reconsider his employment.
J. Horgan: Well, I can tell you that, certainly, Jean Donaldson, who spent 36 hours in the lobby of the Eagle Ridge Hospital would prefer to see some of the $16 million you’ve allocated for propaganda put into health care services.
It’s not just those of us on this side of the House who are concerned about these things. Let me read you the following quote. “People don’t want the government to spend 700 grand of their money so we can find out how to access services; people want the government to spend their money so that those services are there for them to access. That’s what British Columbians want.”
Can the minister answer this? How many firefighters and how many police officers would be on the streets if we had spent her advertising budget on services? Well, that was the person by the name of…. I can’t read it. She’s currently the Premier of British Columbia, in 1999. So what has changed? What has changed between 1999 and 2017 is the quantum of the expenditure. It was $600,000 in expenditure in 1999; it’s $16 million today.
How many services would this government be able to provide to British Columbians if it cut back on the propaganda and started delivering programs?
Hon. A. Wilkinson: I think it’s a bit of a disappointment to all of us to see how quickly the Leader of the Opposition shifts from mockery to anger when he’s cornered.
And of course, we have….
Madame Speaker: Members.
Hon. A. Wilkinson: Since the member refers to the 1990s, we have, of course, the chance to read the ad of October 9, 1998, featuring a full-sized picture of Ms. Penny Priddy, then the Health Minister, saying how she’s here to protect medicare.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the members opposite, when they formed government, spent nearly double what is being spent this year in advertising.
At the same time, given changing circumstances, we’re not ashamed to say the single-parent employment initiative saw a 15-fold increase in recruitment because of the ad campaign because that took 4,200 British Columbians — single parents — out of social services and into higher education so that they could form part of the middle class of the future. That’s a record we’re proud of.
If the members opposite think we’re ashamed of helping British Columbians learn about new programs and helping them to make better lives, then we can see what’s going to happen in the coming campaign. It’s a shift from mockery to anger.
— Source: B.C. Hansard.