Why not the public?
Focus groups reject Tory spin on income trusts
Flaherty's office denies it planned full PR campaign; says government just tried to gauge whether public informed
May 25, 2007
OTTAWA The Conservative government spent $18,000 testing television advertisements designed to put a positive spin on its broken election promise on income trusts, only to find out they were seen as an attempt to do political "damage control," a report obtained by the Star shows.
But Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's office denied yesterday it shelved a full-fledged public relations campaign in response to the negative feedback. Rather, the "television advertising treatments" were produced specifically for February focus groups to see if Canadians needed more information about the government's Tax Fairness plan. The key element of the plan was a decision made last October to tax income trusts contrary to the Tory pledge not to in the last election campaign.
"There were no ads. It was basically to gather some research to determine whether there was a need for any ads," said Dan Miles, a spokesperson for Flaherty. "The decision was that it wasn't necessary."
Income trusts avoid most corporate taxes by distributing profits to unit holders and they were becoming an increasingly popular business structure. They had also become a popular investment vehicle for seniors, so the government's move to end, as of 2011, the tax advantages enjoyed by income trusts compared with regular corporations has sparked protests across the country.
The Tories' campaign promise not to tax income trusts followed the announcement in November 2005 by then-finance minister Ralph Goodale that the Liberal government would not tax the trusts, as many had feared. The NDP then urged the RCMP to investigate claims that major Bay Street players were tipped in advance of the Liberal announcement.
The Mounties chose the middle of the campaign for the Jan. 23, 2006 election to announce they were conducting a criminal investigation, which the Liberals contend contributed to their election defeat. (One finance department tax official has been charged. No politicians or advisers were ever charged.)
The finance department awarded only one contract for advertising services between the Oct. 31 income trust decision and the late-February focus groups â€“ a $21,000 contract to TMP Worldwide on Jan. 31.
Miles said the government was satisfied with the level of knowledge about the issue and its implications that the public had received through media reports "and we didn't need to add to it."
But an account from the focus groups, conducted by Ipsos-Reid, found awareness of the trust issue to be "very low."
There was also "confusion and frustration" about whether the ads were meant to correct misconceptions about the government's tax plan in general, contained in the March budget, or just about the politically sensitive decision on income trusts.
Two of the three advertisements tell viewers that, "the facts you don't know about income trusts are the facts you should know." But the report's authors noted that they encountered a common criticism: "For an ad that is framed in facts there are very few listed."
One ad featured a shattered piggy bank reassembling and seemed designed to convey the message that the government is protecting programs funded by tax dollars. But it left the focus group cold, feeling the government was defending a political decision, not a policy position.
"Many question the exactness of the information being presented," said the report. "For others, the tone is somewhat accusatory and comes across as finger-pointing, which is seen as less than appropriate for the federal government."
A second ad was seen as "scary," and the third was criticized as "damage control."
"This ad is trying too hard to attack big corporations," one person remarked.
Another participant saw the piggy bank spot as an attempt to "win votes" while another said it was to "justify the fact that they have not kept their promises."
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Posted by Fillibluster at 10:28 PM