Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Economic claptrap

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Canadians last fall were paying no attention to the Harper government's horn-tooting campaign about its Economic Action Plan. The public recognized the taxpayer-funded, self-promotion by the ruling party and tuned it out.

The failure of the government's advertising campaign is apparent in the report of the Harris/Decima polling firm submitted to the Finance department in November, made public through the National Archives. The department hired Harris/Decima to ask 2,003 Canadians in early November what they remembered about the ads.

Sixty-five per cent of the people did not remember seeing such an ad. Twelve per cent remembered it was something to do with jobs. When the interviewees were reminded of the touching personal stories told in each ad, 80 per cent remembered no such thing.

The ads' official purpose was to tell Canadians about opportunities available to them. The assumption was that couples would hurry to buy a house if radio and TV ads told them about the first-time homebuyer tax credit. Canadian businesses needed an ad campaign to make them take advantage of the government's Tax Relief for New Manufacturing Machinery and Equipment.

In earlier surveys, interviewees had been asked what actions they took in response to the ads, such as calling a toll-free number or visiting a government website for further information. The numbers who said they did were tiny and shrinking. That question was dropped from the November survey, as was a question inviting a general view of the government's performance.

The Harper government has gone to great lengths to write custom-made tax breaks for narrowly defined categories of taxpayers, offering tax credits to parents of young hockey players, buyers of bus passes, for home renovations and to first time homebuyers. These boutique tax breaks relate more to political marketing than to economic stimulus, hence the advertising to win political credit from the target groups. The government's ads tried to create a national brand called the Economic Action Plan.

The strategy has fallen flat. Canadians recognize political claptrap when they see it, and when they see ads for it, they turn their attention elsewhere. For either purpose -- political marketing or economic stimulus -- the campaign was a dud.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 23, 2014 A8

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