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Manitoba government runs ads and poll on temporary fuel-tax cut

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WINNIPEG -

The Manitoba government has to date budgeted $200,000 to advertise its temporary fuel-tax cut, the finance minister's office says, and is also running an opinion poll on the effectiveness of the ads.

The ads, which have popped up on billboards, on social media and in other locations, tout the government's move to suspend the 14-cent-per-litre fuel tax for a six-month period that started Jan. 1. The government has said it may extend the tax cut a further six months if inflation remains high.

The move was a major NDP campaign promise leading up to last October's provincial election. Premier Wab Kinew said last week it is important to let people know the government is addressing inflation, which he called the top economic issue people are facing.

The government has hired a polling firm to ask people whether they have seen various iterations of the ads and what they like and dislike about them. One ad featured Christmas wrapping paper with the message, "Unwrap gas saving."

"The research being done alongside advertising helps ensure that the advertising is effective -- and cost effective -- and is reaching Manitobans in a way that resonates with them," Finance Minister Adrien Sala's office said in a written statement.

A political analyst said these kinds of political ads have been done by parties of all stripes.

"What it brings to mind is advertising after provincial budgets. We saw the Conservatives do that after each of (their) budgets, and the NDP used to do it as well," Christopher Adams, an adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said Monday.

"Whether it's something that should be done is another question. Because the gasoline tax cut by the province is happening, whether you're aware of it or not. So it's more of a public relations exercise for the provincial government."

Taxpayer-funded advertising of government decisions has long been a point of controversy in Manitoba

In 2014, the NDP government at the time set aside more than $1 million for its "Steady Growth, Good Jobs" ad campaign. The campaign followed a hike in the provincial sales tax and was aimed at telling people that the money raised would go to infrastructure work.

The Opposition Progressive Conservatives called the campaign a partisan misuse of public funds to promote the governing party.

Tory leader Brian Pallister promised he would, if elected premier, have the auditor general vet government ads to remove any partisan messaging. But he didn't follow through on that after winning the 2016 election. He ordered a report by a former elections commissioner that, in 2019, recommended policy guidelines instead of the proposed new powers for the auditor general.

The Tory government ran a series of ads, including one last year that cost $127,000 to promote cheques mailed out to help people deal with inflation.

Now in Opposition again, the Tories say they want to see whether Kinew's NDP government will run more ads when the fuel tax is reinstated.

"Will they spend the same amount of money to advertise when they jack up the gas tax back to 14 cents a litre?" Tory finance critic Obby Khan said in a written statement.

   This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2024.

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