By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government is spending more on budget advertising this year as an election draws closer.
The projected spending on media advertisements for this year’s provincial budget is $172,922 — almost double last year’s level of $93,561, say documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the province’s freedom of information law.
The 2017 budget involved even less advertising, at $19,675, the documents show.
This year’s budget saw the Tories follow through on their biggest promise from the 2016 election that had them sweep the NDP from power.
The provincial sales tax is being reduced to seven per cent from eight as of July 1, and billboards, online ads and other promotional materials have been used to remind the public of the change.
The government says the reminder is necessary.
“Reducing the (tax) to seven per cent may impact the purchasing decisions of Manitobans. We think it’s important to inform Manitobans we are keeping our promises and making life more affordable,” David Von Meyenfeldt, press secretary to Finance Minister Scott Fielding, wrote in an email. Fielding was not available for an interview.
While governments of all stripes traditionally advertise budgets, the opposition parties in Manitoba have cried foul because the extra taxpayer-funded advertising this year comes with Premier Brian Pallister hinting at an early election.
The next election is scheduled for Oct. 6, 2020 but Pallister has repeatedly said a vote next year would be bad because it would interfere with celebrations marking the province’s 150th birthday.
Opponents also point out that Pallister promised in the last election campaign to have all government advertising vetted by the auditor-general to ensure the messaging is non-partisan. That has not happened.
“This premier is currently breaking a promise to end political advertising, because self-serving billboards and radio ads about the (sales tax) have started to pop up around the city,” Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said during one recent exchange in question period.
While the money spent promoting the budget this year is the highest since the Tories took power, Von Meyenfeldt said it is still below what the former NDP government used to spend. Figures provided by the Sport, Culture and Heritage department show budget advertising cost more than $200,000 in every year but one between 2007 and 2015.
The NDP also had, occasionally, six-figure advertising campaigns in addition to annual budget promotion.
In the 2014-15 fiscal year, the former government spent close to $1 million on its Steady Growth, Good Jobs campaign — a series of ads aimed at promoting infrastructure projects and a hike in the provincial sales tax that helped pay for the work.