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The Liberal government is set to spend over $88 million on programs related spreading public messages about COVID-19, everything from health advice, to marketing government programs in response to the pandemic, according to CBC.
The $88 million that will be spent on communications and marketing this year is in addition the the government's current budget for communicating with Canadians on other various issues. The extra spending for COVID-19 related messaging amounts to more than the annual budget for all other public issues combined over the last 10 years.
The Privy Council Office is responsible for helping the Prime Minister's Office to co-ordinate government departments and the Trudeau plans to increase their budget by 39 percent by 2021, giving the Privy Council and additional $58.3 million, of that $48.7 million will go to communications and marketing.
Canadian tax payers will be footing the bill in order to receive these messages about the government's response to the pandemic and that is only part of the bill.
Stephane Shank, a spokesperson for the Privy Council said that $10 million of the new money will be put towards an existing Public Health Agency of Canada campaign, that has already spent $30 million so far. The Finance department will receive another $12 million in addition to its campaign budget of $1o million so it make continue "promoting economic supports for businesses and individuals."
The $26.7 million that is left over will go to top up the Privy Council's budget for the purposes of spending it on "other advertising departmental initiatives related to COVID-19 as necessary."
The spending is designed to ensure that Canadians will receive information regarding their health and safety and lay ways that they may clearly access government programs, according to Shank.
"These efforts have and will continue to provide critical information to Canadians throughout the pandemic in four key areas: public health information, financial support for individuals, financial support for business and the economy and public safety and security information including travel advice," wrote Shank.
The latest spending on communications is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money that is being thrown on the fire of the pandemic to keep Canadians and business afloat during this period. However the concept of government spending on on advertising has long since been a controversial one. When Stephen Harper's government decided to spend on advertising for its "economic action plan," the decision was swiftly criticized by both the NDP and Liberals, Justin Trudeau among them.
As for spending on COVID-19 public messages, critics say that money would be better spent being put directly in the pockets of Canadians who are suffering the most from the pandemic.
"When we're talking about marketing at a time of pandemic, every single dollar that the federal government has available needs to go to support families and seniors, small business people, students. People who are struggling to get through this pandemic," said Peter Julian, the NDP House Leader.
"For tens of millions of dollars to go to marketing at this critical time, it just defies belief. It shows that the government's priorities are not in the right place. They really need to make sure that those resources are invested to support Canadians."
Tim Uppal, a Conservative Treasury Board Critic argues that the amount of money is far too much considering the budget that the Privy Council previously had. "So now, we have additional funds that are on top of all the other departments that are also spending money on communications and marketing," said Uppal. "It's starting to look like this government is very concerned about their communications and marketing plan."
The other frustrations faced by Julian and Uppal is that the money isn't being given directly to the various departments, such as the Public Health Agency of Canada or Health Canada but is instead being given to the Privy Council to be delegated from there.
"I don't think anyone would have difficulty if they were increasing the budget for the Public Health Agency," said Julian.
"The Privy Council Office has traditionally been the political support for the prime minister and as a result of that, it's doubling disturbing that at a time when so many people are struggling and so many people are looking for resources just to get them through the month that the federal government and Mr. Trudeau are choosing to spend tens of millions of dollars on marketing."