Advertising oversight mechanism

The Directive on the Management of Communications requires that departments comply with the external oversight mechanism for non-partisan advertising. This process supports the Government of Canada’s commitment to ensure that its communications are non-partisan.

Advertising campaigns with budgets over $500,000 are required to undergo a mandatory non-partisan review. Departments may also choose to voluntarily submit campaigns with smaller budgets for review.

Non-partisan review criteria

Reviews are conducted by Ad Standards, a not-for-profit organization that administers the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards and has extensive experience reviewing advertising against legislative and regulatory requirements.

Ad Standards reviews creative materials for government advertising campaigns against established criteria for non-partisan communications, which is defined as follows:

  • objective, factual, and explanatory
  • free from political party slogans, images, identifiers, bias, designation or affiliation
  • the primary colour associated with the governing party is not used in a dominant way, unless an item is commonly depicted in that colour
  • devoid of any name, voice or image of a minister, member of Parliament or senator

The review process

The review process is initiated when a request is made by a department. Steps in the process take place as follows:

  1. Departments submit a completed Advertising review submission and evaluation form (accessible only on the Government of Canada network) along with creative materials to Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC)
  2. PSPC coordinates the review process with Ad Standards on behalf of departments
  3. Ad Standards completes an initial review and provides determinations to PSPC before significant investments are made to the development of campaign materials
  4. Ad Standards completes a final review of all English and French advertisements prior to the broadcast, display or publication of the advertisements to the public
  5. Review results and decisions are published on Canada.ca

Roles and responsibilities of departments, TBS, PSPC and Ad Standards are detailed in the Terms of Reference: Ad Standards Review of Non-Partisan Advertising for the Government of Canada.

Exclusions

Announcements of a purely administrative or operational nature are excluded from the review process. Some examples include:

  • public hearings, employment offers, notices of public consultation, requests for tenders or changes to office business hours
  • messages to the public regarding urgent matters affecting public health and safety or the environment

Evaluating the review process

An audit of the process will be conducted by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (OAG).

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