Auditor general’s advice on government advertising

Policy recommendations draw lines for partisanship

Auditor General Carol Bellringer released an updated report on partisan advertising in November.

It revised her 1996 report, entitled Public Communications: Distinguishing Between Government Program and Partisan Political Communications.

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says it was based on a review of policy and legislation around partisan government communication in several other jurisdictions with similar governance roots to British Columbia.

“The Auditor General suggests there should be policies and protocols in place that guide decision-making on government advertising, and we agree.

“This report is not an audit of government spending; [Bellringer] did not suggest that any advertising or communications done by government were in fact partisan or political.”

While governments should inform the public about their programs, services and policies, Bellringer says the line between providing useful information and partisan government advertising can be “blurry.”

“Our research for this report across numerous jurisdictions demonstrates that it is indeed a grey area. Clarity is needed to delineate what type of publicly funded advertising is acceptable and what is not.”

It contains specific recommendations for establishing and enforcing policy for partisan political information in public government communications, and oversight to ensure an effective resolution, Bellringer notes.

“Guidance will help protect civil servants who may be asked to perform duties that could be considered partisan.”