Thursday, March 3, 2016

Pharmacare Ads & Mailouts

(Note: This column first appeared in on March 3, 2016)

It’s no surprise that the recent advertisements and mail out to seniors from the Premier apologizing for the Pharmacare debacle is raising concerns, not just within the weeds of the political establishment, but also with many of the very seniors who are targeted by the information. Reports suggest somewhere in the vicinity of $130,000 has been spent apologizing for changes which should never have been proposed in the first place.

The government had already put out a widely covered press release and spoke to the issue in the media. With the laser focussed attention many seniors have had on the changes, it’s impossible to argue seniors were not aware the rollback of changes which were announced on February 18th. Government also can’t argue that the media did not cover the changes thus requiring this expenditure.

Making the costs even more appalling is that the money spent exceeds some of the cuts made to organizations supporting the health of Nova Scotians. Essentially the Department of Health is saying it has money for political communication but not to support delivery of important health programming.

When in opposition Premier McNeil rightly criticized both the NDP and PC governments for mailings, advertisements, and other communication which the government of the day argued was necessary to update Nova Scotians about programs and government initiatives. To end this practice, one of the first bills I brought forward and saw passed after I became he Minister for Communications Nova Scotia was an amendment to the Public Service Act which outlined new rules for government communication. That statute ensures communication paid by the government is “not directed at promoting partisan interests”.

It’s hard to argue the recent Pharmacare advertisements and letter are anything but promoting partisan interests and thus a violation of that law. The letter from the Premier even goes so far as to step back from responsibility for the changes, suggesting the proposed Pharmacare changes were reflective of discussions with the group of nine seniors’ organizations, something which at least some of those organizations have denied.

It’s not about whether an apology was appropriate or needed. That’s a political decision, and thus the real point. Government responsibility to advise Nova Scotians of the changes was accomplished through the press release and statements by the Premier which were widely reported across the province. Those saying that the Liberal Party should have paid by for the ads and mailing are correct. Not only did Premier McNeil oppose such expenditures in the past, but if it is not strictly against the letter of the law in place since 2013, it is certainly against the spirit of that law.