Critics say Manitoba’s million-dollar ads are aimed at buying votes

The Conservatives say the advertising is needed to help inform Manitobans of new programs and financial supports.

The Manitoba government has budgeted more than $1 million to promote its recent budget and other initiatives such as affordable child care and inflation-fighting cheques that have been mailed to households.

While the Progressive Conservative government says the advertising is needed to help inform Manitobans of new programs and financial supports, critics accuse the Tories of using public money to boost their chances in the provincial election slated for Oct. 3.

“It’s completely undemocratic and it’s the sort of thing that needs to be recognized and reined in,” Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Monday.

A document obtained by The Canadian Press under the freedom of information law shows the government has already spent $210,000 promoting its budget, $135,000 advertising new $10-a-day child care, and $127,000 highlighting cheques that are being mailed out this spring to help people deal with inflation.

The spending is needed to ensure people know they are eligible for things such as the inflation-fighting cheques, Finance Minister Cliff Cullen said.

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“We want to make sure that every Manitoban that is eligible for those relief cheques is aware of it and, if for some reason they don’t get it, they understand the mechanism to claim it,” Cullen said.

Another document, provided by Cullen’s office, shows $500,000 has been budgeted for the child-care ad campaign alone, with additional money set aside for other initiatives. Some of that advertising is aimed at attracting more workers to the field, he said.

About $150,000 has been budgeted for a “Helping Our Schools” ad campaign that promotes a sizable increase in funding this year for kindergarten to Grade 12 classrooms.

Cullen said that campaign is aimed in part at fighting accusations by critics.

“The narrative is out there that we have been cutting funding to education,” he said.

Documents from Cullen’s office show total government spending on advertising has been rising in recent years but is below the amount spent by the former NDP government in its last year in power before the 2016 election.

NDP finance critic Adrien Sala said there are legitimate reasons for governments to advertise programs and services, but the Tory ads are geared to self-promotion as they trail in opinion polls.

“The PCs are doing a huge advertising push here in a wide variety of areas, all with taxpayer dollars, and these are dollars that should be used to support front-line health care or to support improvements in our education system,” Sala said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2023.

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