With its new Policy on Communications and Federal Identity, the Government of Canada is putting an end to the partisan use of government advertising.
Departments are required to submit their advertising creative materials for review. This process is coordinated through Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC).
Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) will ensure that advertisements are:
- Objective, factual and explanatory;
- Free from political party slogans, images, identifiers; bias; designation; or affiliation;
- Not using the primary colour associated with the governing party in a dominant way, unless an item is commonly depicted in that colour;
- Devoid of any name, voice or image of a minister, Member of Parliament or senator; and
- Not related to government initiatives requiring parliamentary approval before they are approved.
The ASC review will take place at two stages:
- before a department invests significantly in the development of creative; and
- prior to the broadcast, display or publication of the advertisements, to ensure that no substantial changes were made that would affect the initial review.
The following advertisements are excluded from the review process because of their administrative or operational nature:
- public hearings;
- employment offers;
- notices of public consultation;
- requests for tenders;
- changes to office business hours; and
- messages to the public regarding urgent matters affecting public health and safety or the environment.
Effective immediately, all federal government advertising with a budget greater than $500,000 will be subject to a mandatory external review by Advertising Standards Canada (ASC), the administrator of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards for the last 50 years.
ASC will conduct a thorough assessment of proposed advertisements in line with the new Policy and its explicit definition of “non-partisan” for the purpose of Government of Canada advertising. These reviews will be published online.
Departments and agencies may also choose to submit advertisements with budgets under $500,000 for review, but regardless of their budgets, all advertising campaigns are subject to the new Policy.
The Government has asked the Office of the Auditor General to conduct an audit of this review mechanism and his Office will determine its scope and timing.
Roles and Responsibilities
Departments and agencies must ensure that recommendations made by ASC are addressed prior to advertisements being made public. They are also required to respond to public complaints relating to advertising placed by their organization.
PSPC is responsible for facilitating the review process between departments and the ASC, and ensuring departments address ASC’s findings before proceeding with ad placements. They will not issue the necessary ADV number otherwise.
If there is a disagreement during the review process, the matter will be referred to the Secretary of the Treasury Board for resolution, with the decision made public. The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) provides policy advice, analysis and interpretations to PSPC and departments on the non-partisan definition and related requirements.
Transparency and Accountability
Decisions made over the course of this review process will be published online to ensure Canadians can trust that Government advertisement is serving the public interest. ASC’s reviews of advertisements will be posted on Canada.ca.
If a dispute is filed with the Secretary of the Treasury Board, the Secretary’s decision will also be published online.
The Office of the Auditor General has been asked to audit the review process to assess its effectiveness. His recommendations will inform the Government’s work with parliamentarians, stakeholders and interested Canadians as it moves to entrench the ban on partisan use of government advertising in legislation.