The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Ad industry self-regulatory group won't name and shame false government campaign

  • Print

OTTAWA - Government advertisers are free to blatantly misrepresent services or programs without public censure from the ad industry's self-regulatory watchdog, so long as they stop airing the offending ads after citizens complain.

The Conservative government's $2.5 million campaign last spring to promote the Canada Jobs Grant, a proposed job-training program that still doesn't exist almost a year later, is a case in point.

Both Global News and PostMedia News have revealed that Advertising Standards Canada, the "national, not-for-profit, advertising self-regulatory body," chided the government for the misleading ads, which were in heavy rotation last spring — including during pricey NHL playoff telecasts.

Not so fast, says a spokeswoman for the self-regulatory council.

"No, I can't," confirm the sanction, Janet Feasby, vice-president of standards with the council, said in an interview Friday.

The council publicly posts complaint reports, but there are two different ways of handling the disclosure, she said. Some transgressors are identified, others are not.

If an advertiser pulls or changes an ad after people complain to the council, they don't get publicly identified.

"If the ad was not withdrawn or amended until after the council decision, that's when the advertiser is identified," said Feasby.

And so it is that a posting on Advertising Standards Canada's website shows that a "service provider" with a national television campaign advertising "a new program of services" attracted 22 complaints last year.

"To the council, the commercial conveyed the general impression that the services were universally accessible," says the posting. "In fact, they would not be accessible for some time."

The watchdog concluded that the commercial omitted relevant information.

But since the advertiser agreed to withdraw the ad, the offending party was never named.

Only a leak to Global News tipped anyone that the government of Canada had been busted.

Global's report, released in the August doldrums and widely overlooked, quoted a leaked letter from the council to the federal department that sounded the same concerns as the anonymous posting currently on the ASC web site.

"In reality, the implementation of this program is not imminent, and the process of obtaining such agreement may well take a considerable length of time if, in fact, an accord with the provinces and territories (on the grant proposal) is even possible," said the letter leaked to Global.

It was signed by Janet Feasby.

Yet when The Canadian Press called Advertising Standards Canada last month, Feasby would not even divulge whether the council had ever received a single complaint about the Canada Jobs Grant ad.

Mathieu Ravignat, the NDP Treasury Board critic, says the industry watchdog should not be providing the government a cloak of anonymity.

"The council should come forward with specific information about what happened in this case so that Canadians can know how their tax dollars were abused," he said.

But others argue the incident highlights the need for dedicated public oversight of federal government advertising.

"What it does suggest is that while industry regulation might work for commercial advertisers, it does not work for government advertising," said political scientist Jonathan Rose, an expert in political advertising at Queen's University.

"Oversight needs to come from a neutral, non-partisan entity to ensure transparency. And that entity needs to be accountable to Parliament, not an industry umbrella group."

The Advertising Standards Canada web site states that it is "committed to fostering community confidence in advertising and to ensuring the integrity and viability of advertising in Canada through responsible industry self-regulation."

"Reporting on consumer complaints about advertising is an integral part of the advertising industry's commitment to an objective and transparent consumer complaint process," states the council.

Feasby makes no apologies for the way the council handles problematic advertising.

The process gives consumers "a quick and expedient way of having complaints dealt with about ads," she said.

"The sole remedy under our code if an ad is found to contravene the code is to have the ad removed or amended appropriately. That's what consumers want and that's what is provided."

The council does not handle complaints about political ads or election campaign advertising.


Follow @bcheadle on Twitter

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jim Flaherty remembered at visitation as irreplaceable

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local-(Standup photo)- A wood duck swims through the water with fall refections in Kildonan Park Thursday afternoon.
  • A goose cools off Thursday in water at Omands Creek Park-See Bryksa 30 day goose challenge- Day 25– June 21, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


What are you most looking forward to this Easter weekend?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google