“It is unclear how OSEA will afford such a lavish ad blitz. The not-for-profit organization’s financial statements show it lost $130,000 in 2010 and was forced to borrow nearly $48,500 on a secured line of credit. It is spending $200,000 on the current campaign.”
By Lee Greenberg, Postmedia News
TORONTO — A taxpayer-funded environmental group is starting a television advertising campaign on Friday that supports the province’s green-energy policy without registering as a third party, an apparent violation of the province’s election finances laws. The only party opposed to the policy is the Progressive Conservative party.
The two ads by the Ontario Sustainable Energy Association draw attention to the province’s green-energy policy, which offers rich subsidies to wind and solar producers who agree to strict domestic content provisions, and asks voters to support it in the election.
Both the Liberals, who are using the policy as an economic cornerstone of their platform, and New Democrats, are in favour of the legislation and would continue it, if elected.
The Tories have promised to scrap the program. They say the subsidies — which pay producers rates up to 23 times higher than the market price — are exorbitant.
“On Election Day, support those who support the Green Energy and Economy Act,” a narrator says in both versions of the ad, which will run until Oct. 4 on television stations in Ottawa, Toronto, Barrie, Peterborough, Niagara, Timmins, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury and North Bay.
The two 30-second spots feature idyllic images of renewable energy installations in rural Ontario.
“Twenty-thousand jobs, high-tech jobs, generated in Ontario since 2009,” the narrator says. “It’s about your choice. Ask your candidate ‘are you supporting our future, our economy?'”
Meanwhile, Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty was promoting his government’s clean-energy plan in Sault Ste. Marie Thursday.
“Building Ontario wind turbines with Northern Ontario steel is a great example of how our new clean-energy economy is working — reaching all corners of Ontario to deliver good jobs for families and making us more competitive,” he said after a tour of Essar Steel Algoma — the largest employer in Sault Ste. Marie.
Ontario’s election finances act requires all third-party advertisers to register with the Chief Electoral Officer, to identify who is behind the ads and to file a financial report on all election responses. Political ads are defined as messages that either promote or oppose a registered political party.
Kris Stevens, executive director of OSEA, said his organization has not registered and does not believe it needs to. He does not believe the ads are implicitly anti-Conservative.
“We’re addressing a policy,” he said in an interview. “We’re not for or against any party, we’re for a policy.”
He said after consulting a lawyer, the organization attached a written disclaimer at the bottom of the ads stating: “This advertisement refers to renewable energy public policy and does not endorse any particular party or candidate.”
It is unclear how OSEA will afford such a lavish ad blitz.
The not-for-profit organization’s financial statements show it lost $130,000 in 2010 and was forced to borrow nearly $48,500 on a secured line of credit.
It is spending $200,000 on the current campaign.
Among the group’s funding sources, OSEA lists three government organizations, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure and the Ontario Trillium foundation.
Stevens said “less than a quarter” of the group’s funding comes from government agencies and none of it is being used for the advertisements.
A Conservative spokesman questioned the group’s decision to advertise.
“This is a serious issue,” said party spokesman Jason Lieter. “If government money is being spent on ads that advocate or appear to advocate for any particular party or position, that’s unacceptable. We’re going to be looking pretty hard into the financial records of this organization because it appears a big part of their business is a political re-election campaign for Dalton McGuinty.”
Lieter added that the party will look to McGuinty to explain “why taxpayer dollars are being used to advocate a position which he’s staked his campaign on.”
In a lengthy interview, Stevens initially claimed he was unaware of the Conservative policy on green energy. “I looked at the Changebook (platform) and it doesn’t say a whole lot about what they will do,” he said.
When pointed to the section in the document where the party says it will “end the . . . program,” Stevens said the ads had a broader objective.
“We’re asking them (the Progressive Conservative party), ‘where do you want to go?'” he said. “My goal is to get them to hopefully — well, all of the parties — to endorse and support it.”
Any group found in contravention of the election finances law is subject to prosecution by the attorney general. Convictions carry penalties of up to $50,000 for corporations or trade unions, and up to $5,000 for other individuals or groups.
A spokesman for Elections Ontario said the agency doesn’t comment on specific investigations.
The Progressive Conservative party is already locked in a long-standing dispute with another pro-Liberal advertising group. The Working Families Coalition, which is comprised of various large unions, has backed McGuinty and has spent millions in anti-Conservative advertising over the past two election campaigns, including the often quoted 2003 ad that help topple former Premier Ernie Eves.
The ad finished: “Not this time, Ernie. Not this time.”