THE revelation this week that the B.C. Liberals used government staff to build a partisan website has highlighted a deep-seated problem with government communications that reaches beyond the boundaries of our province.
The use of public employees to develop CantAffordDix.ca, a political site aimed at undermining NDP leader Adrian Dix, is deplorable, but hardly out of the ordinary.
Communications personnel occupy a grey area in governments across the country. While they are ostensibly employed by taxpayers to act as neutral liaisons between the government and the public, the messages they convey are frequently tailored to advance the interests of the party in power. Too often, the press releases, public events and ad campaigns they help organize are clearly designed to sway voters more than to inform them. This is as true at the federal level and in other provinces as it is in British Columbia. The CantAffordDix issue is just an unusually blatant example of this practice, but that doesn't make any of it right.
Critics are calling for an independent audit of the CantAffordDix site and of the work that went into it. They're right to do so, but the probe shouldn't stop there. B.C.'s auditor general should take a hard look at government communications and advertising generally, with an eye to ferreting out abuses, creating clear boundaries and setting up mechanisms to begin curbing misuse in future.
It's only through independent oversight that we will ensure our tax dollars are used to promote the interests of the public, not of a single party.
© Copyright 2013