GENERAL OF CANADA
BEFORE THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC ACCOUNTS
2019 SPRING REPORTS OF THE AUDITOR GENERAL OF
CANADA REPORT 4—OVERSIGHT OF GOVERNMENT OF CANADA ADVERTISING
23 February 2021
1. Madam Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our report on the oversight of Government of Canada advertising. This report was tabled in Parliament in May 2019. Joining me today is Michelle Salvail, who was responsible for the audit.
Government of Canada uses communications to inform the public of its programs
and services. A message is considered advertising when the government pays to place
it either in traditional media, such as newspapers, television, radio,
or billboards, or in digital media, such as websites or social media
In 2016, the
Government of Canada introduced in its Policy on Communications and Federal
Identity a definition of non-partisan communications that includes advertising.
The government also put in place the requirement that all advertising campaigns
with a budget of more than $500,000 would be subject to an external review for
non‑partisanship, as assessed against a set of specific criteria.
Our audit focused on
whether the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and Public Services and
Procurement Canada were ensuring that the government’s commitment to non-partisan
advertising was being met. Overall, in our view, the government’s oversight of advertising was not
sufficiently robust to ensure that no public funds were spent on partisan
The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
did not assess risks beyond
cost when it set out the external review process for campaigns with budgets
exceeding $500,000. In other words, the threshold was
based on just the value of the campaign, and the secretariat did not consider other
important risk factors, such as a campaign’s audience reach or topic. For
example, a campaign can cost little but carry more risk because it focuses on a
politically sensitive topic like medical assistance in dying, while an
extensive information campaign on a neutral topic, such as handwashing, will
cost much more but be less likely to involve political colouring.
found that the secretariat
did not monitor the quality of the external reviews conducted by
Ad Standards, the not-for-profit organization mandated by the secretariat
to conduct the reviews. In reviewing files provided by the secretariat, we
found little evidence of the analysis conducted to support the assessment of
campaigns against criteria. This gap in monitoring means that the secretariat
may have missed opportunities to identify and rectify weaknesses in the
Services and Procurement Canada reviews campaigns that fall below the $500,000 threshold to
ensure that they comply with policy and legislative requirements, including those
for non-partisanship. We
found little evidence that the department
conducted consistent and thorough reviews against all non-partisanship
criteria. For example, we found no indication that reviewers took steps to
confirm that statements and statistics presented in campaigns were factual, even
though the government’s Policy on Communications and
Federal Identity sets out that non-partisan communications are to be objective,
factual, and explanatory.
made 5 recommendations to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and 1 to
Public Services and Procurement Canada. Both organizations agreed with our recommendations
and prepared action plans. According to the timelines set out in these plans,
all our recommendations should have been addressed at this time.
we have not conducted additional audit work since 2019, I do want to note that some
changes have been made to the external review process. For example, the
threshold for sending a campaign for external review has been lowered to $250,000.
The committee may wish to ask the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat whether its
analysis of risk factors other than cost have led to other changes to the
our audit was completed, the government’s website shows that more than 50 additional
campaigns underwent a mandatory external review, including those related to the
COVID-19 pandemic. We also note that review results posted since our audit identify
more instances of non-compliance with criteria such as accuracy, factualness,
and objectivity. We take these results to be an indication of the positive impact
of our work.
Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any
questions the committee may have. Thank you.