OTTAWA – The federal Liberals are trying to tune out the temptation to inject partisanship into advertising on their vaunted infrastructure program with new signs that have more green, blue and orange in them than red.
Communities across the country receiving federal cash to make their infrastructure dreams a reality will be able to put up the new signs starting Friday.
The Liberals hope the signs signal a departure from the problematic ads the previous Conservative government placed nationwide that drew the ire of the then-opposition Liberals.
About 5,000 of the Conservative government’s “economic action plan” signs went up between 2009 and 2015 on projects overseen by Infrastructure Canada, with an unknown number still standing.
The new signs have the name of the project, the total cost, the start and end dates, as well as a slogan explaining why the project is taking place such as “modern, secure and efficient ports and shipping,” or “increased urban transit options, greener cities.”
The information is placed on one of three backgrounds for an urban, rural or northern project.
The logo of each funding partner is on the bottom of the sign.
“We are committed to openness and transparency and this signage approach is an efficient way to inform Canadians on where and how government dollars are being invested in their communities,” said Kate Monfette, a spokeswoman for Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi.
Government officials spent months consulting provincial and territorial counterparts on the design of the new signs.
The goal was to craft something that everyone could be happy with and which suggested that everyone was an equal partner in a project, even if the federal government footed most of the bill.
The new signs are similar to those the Tories put up, in that they tout government spending, are “self-congratulatory” and have no real purpose other than “demonstrating government largesse,” said Jonathan Rose, a political scientist at Queen’s University who specializes in political communication.
Signs should inform citizens about how their tax dollars are spent and which level of government is spending what, said Rose, who has advised the Ontario auditor general’s office in its oversight role over partisan provincial government advertising. There could have also been a link on the sign so passersby could easily look for more information about a project, Rose said.
“Governments need to be careful about understanding the appropriate limits of using taxpayers’ dollars for advertising that seems to be only in their self interest. Before advertising, there needs to be a clear policy reason to do so,” he said.
The new signs won’t stay up forever — they have to be removed within 30 days of project completion —and the signage guidelines gently suggest that physical signs may not be suitable in all locations or for all projects.
There is an option of using digital signage on Twitter, Facebook, or screens inside buildings.
Monfette said project proponents will make the final call about whether to erect a sign.
Much like the earlier economic action plan signs, the new infrastructure signs will be eligible project expenses, meaning the federal government will cover up to half of their cost.
The signs themselves are estimated to cost between $250 and $700 each, not including installation.