Roles and responsibilities: Non-partisan review process for government advertising

The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that its communications products and activities, including advertising, are non-partisan.

Through advertising, the government informs Canadians about:

  • its services, programs, initiatives and policies
  • environmental and public health and safety issues
  • consultations related to public interest
  • their legal rights and obligations

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Scope and focus

Advertising campaigns with budgets over $250,000 are reviewed by an external organization against advertising review criteria based on the definition and other elements outlined in the Policy on Communications and Federal Identity and the Directive on the Management of Communications.

While working towards establishing a permanent advertising oversight mechanism, the government has contracted the services of Ad Standards to provide review services.

Roles and responsibilities

The non-partisan review process involves many parties. This section outlines the roles and responsibilities of each.

Government of Canada departments

Departments listed in schedules I, I.1 and II of the Financial Administration Act are required to comply with the Policy on Communications and Federal Identity and the Directive on the Management of Communications and the oversight mechanism for non-partisan advertising, unless they are excluded by specific acts, regulations, orders in council or other means.

Departments will:

  • ensure that advertising materials comply with the definition of non-partisan communications
  • submit all ad creatives for campaigns with budgets greater than $250,000 for mandatory review
  • complete the Submitting Previously Used Creatives form (when re-using creatives that were already approved by Ad Standards) and forward it to PSPC
  • complete the Advertising Review Submission and Evaluation form for new ad creatives
  • provide advertising materials in a format that will allow timely distribution and review at the following review stages:
    1. Initial review: an examination of ad creatives in English or French early in the production process (for example, script/storyboard/audio-visual/initial layout). Departments must include relevant production or content information necessary for Ad Standards to complete the 10-point checklist and identify elements that do not meet the advertising review criteria.
    2. Final review: a second examination of the final ad creatives in English and French to ensure determinations made by Ad Standards are addressed before ads go to market
  • refer disagreements about Ad Standards decisions to the Communications and Federal Identity Policy Centre at TBS for resolution
  • respond, as necessary, to the findings of a TBS review of a public complaint about partisan advertising

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC)

PSPC is responsible for facilitating the review process between government departments and Ad Standards.

PSPC will:

  • provide secretariat support services for the coordination of the review process
  • facilitate the submission of ad creatives for review to Ad Standards at both the initial and final review stages
  • coordinate the processing of ad creatives that have already passed a review by Ad Standards and are being reused by the department
  • coordinate the tracking, notification and reporting process of Ad Standards review, specifically:
    • track review requests by project
    • notify departments of Ad Standards review determinations after each review stage
    • provide TBS with copies of each completed Submission and Evaluation form following the final review, with copies of the accompanying ad creatives
    • facilitate discussions between Ad Standards and departments, as required, to provide clarification and other information to support the review process
    • notify TBS if a department fails to submit its advertising creative for a review or disregards a determination from Ad Standards
  • withhold issuing the ADV number if a department fails to submit its advertising creative for Ad Standards review (when required) or fails to comply with the review determination from Ad Standards
  • participate in quarterly meetings with Ad Standards and TBS
  • direct all public complaints about partisan content in Government of Canada advertising to the TBS complaints form

Ad Standards

Ad Standards is an independent review body made up of Canadian advertising industry professionals.

Ad Standards will:

  • review Government of Canada advertising materials at the initial review and final review stages to ensure that all creative elements meet the advertising review criteria:
    1. Initial review: an examination of ad creatives, in English and / or French, early in the production process (for example, script/storyboard/audio-visual/initial layout). Ad Standards must complete the Advertising Review Submission and Evaluation form and identify elements that do not meet the criteria
    2. Final review: a second examination to ensure that the English and French final creative materials fully meet the criteria prior to their broadcast, display or publication
  • perform a final review immediately following an initial review for ad creatives that have successfully passed the initial review, and for which the head of communications has attested in the submission form, will not be modified
  • return completed assessments for both initial and final reviews to PSPC within two business days of receipt of request(s) for review. Final review results must be provided in both official languages
  • participate in quarterly meetings with TBS and PSPC to discuss the review process and other emerging operational issues

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS)

TBS is the policy authority under which the oversight mechanism and the definition of non-partisan communications have been established. It is responsible for overseeing policy compliance and addressing public complaints.

TBS will:

  • lead the development of the criteria for the review of government advertising based on the definition of non-partisan communications as described in the Policy on Communications and Federal Identity and the Directive on the Management of Communications
  • update the Advertising Review Submission and Evaluation form used by departments to initiate a review, as needed
  • provide policy advice, analysis and interpretations to PSPC and to departments, as required, on the definition of non-partisan communications and policy requirements
  • address any disagreements between departments and Ad Standards on the decisions made during the review process based on advertising criteria
  • coordinate quarterly meetings between TBS, Ad Standards, and PSPC to discuss the review process and emerging operational issues
  • monitor the effectiveness of the oversight mechanism and related procedures and recommend adjustments, as required, during Ad Standards’ mandate period
  • ensure transparency and openness about the oversight mechanism for non-partisan advertising by posting the following information on Canada.ca:
    • advertising review criteria
    • Ad Standards review determinations, as they become available
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