'Green' website is campaign in disguise: Critics
TORONTO - The Liberal government is using taxpayer-funded television ads to direct people to a "go green'' website which opposition parties say is less about the environment and more about getting the Liberals re-elected in October.
While some -- including the Auditor General's office -- say the $480,000 television ads and website aren't partisan, critics say its an example of how the Liberal government is campaigning for the Oct. 10 election on tax dollars.
The new website -- gogreenOntario.ca -- is being promoted by Premier Dalton McGuinty as he rolls out the Liberal climate change plan and gives people tips on what they can do to be more environmentally friendly.
It also lists every Liberal environmental announcement since the party was elected in 2003 and provides quotes from environmentalists praising the initiatives.
"It's really questionable,'' said New Democrat Peter Tabuns. "If you're talking about helping people go green individually, this site is much more about making people think that Dalton McGuinty is green. That's very questionable ethically.''
The website should be pared down to just include green-living tips and leave the rest "on the Liberal website where it belongs,'' Tabuns said.
The NDP also point out that most government ministry sites now feature a banner at the top with a picture of McGuinty and list government initiatives under the headline "Getting Results.''
All provincial ads have to be approved by the Auditor General's office after the Liberals passed legislation in 2004 banning partisan government advertising that features the premier's face or the logo of the governing party.
Although the legislation doesn't extend to websites, the Auditor General's office said it does give a cursory look at sites that are promoted by television ads, and gogreenOntario.ca was approved.
Environment Minister Laurel Broten said the website isn't designed to promote the Liberals but is meant to help Ontarians do their part to fight climate change.
"The purpose is to help Ontarians to understand how they can be part of taking action and how we should all be hopeful,'' she said. "Collectively, as a province, we've made some big decisions and we've taken some really significant steps.''
The website is a response to Ontario residents who have asked for more advice on what they can do to help the environment, Broten added.
"There is a lot of good information on that website,'' she said.
Conservative Leader John Tory said the site is the kind of "partisan, taxpayer-financed propaganda'' that McGuinty vowed would be banned under his leadership.
Former Conservative premiers Ernie Eves and Mike Harris were accused of using taxpayer-funded advertising campaigns to promote their party when they were in power, prompting the Liberals to ban the practice.
If the Liberals wanted to be honest, Tory said they would also post copies of the Environmental Commissioner's reports on the site as well _ many of which have been critical of the government.
"This is another example of them taking taxpayers' money and trying to run their election campaign,'' Tory said. "It's unfair and another example of a broken promise because he said he wouldn't do it.''
Jonathan Rose, a political science professor at Queen's University, said websites are a "grey area'' for government advertising because they aren't covered under the current legislation.
But Rose said the environment website currently under dispute looks "quite innocuous.''
"This is about pre-election jockeying largely,'' he said. "But given the environment as a central issue in the election campaign, this is one that people might pay attention to.''