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Government spends more promoting stimulus plan than flu awareness

  The Conservative government is spending more than five times as many taxpayer dollars on promoting its economic plan than it is on raising public awareness about the swine flu pandemic.

That is again raising a long-standing question: when does government advertising cross the line into partisan boosterism?

Television viewers may have noticed the latest feel-good government ads about stimulus spending, including the Conservative-friendly, anti-election pitch: "We can't stop now," and "We have to stay on track."

All the ads direct viewers to a Tory-blue government website that includes more than 40 different photos of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and refers repeatedly to "the Harper government" — apparently in direct contravention of Treasury Board communications policy.

The TV spots are just the latest $5-million salvo in a $34-million media blitz trumpeting the Conservatives' recession-fighting budget.

Meanwhile, public health officials are fretting over an onrushing fall flu season, the spread of the H1N1 virus and widespread public apathy about the need for vaccination.

Government officials didn't respond to a specific query from The Canadian Press last week on whether television ads were in the works to combat swine flu.

But a government spokesman said Sunday evening that television ads are to be launched Monday across the country to raise public awareness about H1N1.

The official said the government had planned for some time to launch the ad campaign.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said it has a total marketing budget of $6.5 million to inform Canadians about the H1N1 virus and how to avoid infection.

Some $4.5 million of that was spent on ads in newspapers, public transit, and on the web that ran from April to August.

The health agency has committed another $2 million to radio spots that began airing last week, just as new swine flu outbreaks were being reported.

Opposition MPs said the spending disparity in the two ad campaigns simply highlights the obvious: The government is using public funds to toot its own horn.

"Guys, you're spending all this money to promote yourselves. Maybe some work on the prevention of H1N1 would be helpful," Liberal critic Martha Hall-Findlay said in an interview.

The Liberals first objected to government ads earlier this summer that claimed the federal stimulus funding was "80 per cent already implemented." That glossy campaign is also highlighted on the government's action plan website.

Marketing experts say partisanship in government advertising is highly situational, ever-present and may or may not cross ethical lines.

Unenforceable guidelines

Federal advertising guidelines speak vaguely of not promoting any political party or entity, but Hall-Findlay concedes the rules are so loose as to be unenforceable.

Ontario, by contrast, began screening provincial government ads in 2004 under a strict law that attempts to stop partisan messaging.

Jonathan Rose, a political communications expert at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., advises the ad clearance group for the auditor general of Ontario.

Rose said the Ontario law requires examination of not just what the ads say, "but also the relationship between the ad buy and the campaign imperatives."

That means ads that fall close to a scheduled election — or, say, when a minority government's defeat appears imminent — will be given particular scrutiny.

"One might expect ads that require citizens to do something — such as things to prevent swine flu — have a stronger reason than those ads that have no information related to changing behaviour or attitudes in the public interest," Rose said in an email.

A case can be made for current government ads that promote the popular home renovation tax credit, which requires Canadians to keep receipts and actively apply for tax reimbursement.

But it's harder to understand the public service utility spending millions of tax dollars to advise Canadians that their money is being spent on infrastructure projects.

Tim Dewhirst, an associate professor at Guelph University's marketing and consumer studies department, said government ads may be informational, persuasive, or serve as reminders — with ads that focus on providing specific information to the public the least problematic.

Dewhirst said many of the Tory economic action ads appear to be aimed at persuading rather than informing.

"There's probably a lot of other issues that people would say is money better spent than trying to be persuasive about an action plan that's supposedly already 80 per cent implemented," he said in an interview.

"If it's 80 per cent done, is there much of an informing purpose still necessary?"

The $34-million economic ad budget is spread among four federal departments — Canada Revenue Agency, Finance, Human Resources and Skills Development, and Infrastructure Canada. But all inquiries were directed to the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister's Office.

Late Sunday evening, five days after receiving a written list of questions from The Canadian Press, the Privy Council Office responded by email.

"The Actionplan.gc.ca website was developed to help the Government of Canada meet its commitment to providing timely, transparent and accountable information to Canadians on EAP projects and initiatives happening in their communities," said the email from spokeswoman Myriam Massabki.

As for all those photos of Harper, "The Prime Minister is the chief spokesperson in the Government of Canada for the [action plan]," Massabki wrote.

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/09/20/government-ads.html

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I'm by no means a fan of the $35 million partisan marketing campaign, but why do our politicians/media have to drag swine flu into the mix? Do the libs want to spend $35 million to tell Canadians to wash their hands? From what i understand swine flu is less severe than most flu strains that fly around each and every year. I'm even kinda convinced I had it. And i'm alive! I'm so done with both of these parties.

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I'm by no means a fan of the $35 million partisan marketing campaign, but why do our politicians/media have to drag swine flu into the mix?

because that's a major issue these days.

Do the libs want to spend $35 million to tell Canadians to wash their hands?

i never read that anywhere. but we need to have a proper pandemic plan in place. and that costs money. and a media campaign is a good place to start.

From what i understand swine flu is less severe than most flu strains that fly around each and every year.

to date, yes. but public health experts are expecting it to mutate, which is why its a potentially very big deal. and don't tell Canad's Aboriginal communities that H1N1 is not very severe.

I'm even kinda convinced I had it. And i'm alive!

You would know if you had it. And if you are an otherwise health person, you won't have major effects from it. but if you are at all compromised it can be quite harmful. just check out some of the numbers on reserves and within the native population. it is quite severe there.

This news was not brought to the media by the Liberal Party. They were just responding to it. And I'm no fan of the Liberal Party.

I normally vote Green. but given the current situation, I'm leaning towards voting Liberal. Harper NEEDS TO GO. we haven't seen the real Harper yet. With a majority we will wee his true vitriol and meanness.

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How would I 'know' if i had it? Symptoms are reported to be similar to the common cold/flu, which is what I had. But I don't go to the doctors for a cold and/or flu, so?

I'm only 'kinda' convinced as a week prior I was traveling through major airports and then came down with it... none of my friends or family had it. Could have been a cold, could have been swine flu.

All flu strains have the potential to mutate. I'm not trying to downplay the seriousness that could jeopardize people with compromised immune systems, etc., but are these people not just as susceptible to other, more severe strains as well?

Just seems like all the media coverage and political campaigning surrounding the swine flu is creating a sense of panic amongst some people when there need not be a sense of panic.

I watched a little documentary on the CBC a couple of weeks ago that reported almost 500% more people die every year from a freak accident like falling down the stairs or getting electrocuted by a hair dryer than the swine flu.

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Burn!

The symptoms of swine flu are similar to other influenzas, and may include a fever, coughing, headaches, pain in the muscles or joints, sore throat, chills, fatigue, and runny nose. Diarrhea, vomiting, and neurological problems were also reported in some cases.[44][45] People at higher risk of serious complications include people age 65 and older, children younger than 5 years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with underlying medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, or a weakened immune system (e.g., taking immunosuppressive medications or infected with HIV).[46] Most hospitalizations in the U.S. were people with such underlying conditions, according to the CDC.[47]

As with the seasonal flu, certain symptoms may have required emergency medical attention. In children signs of respiratory distress included blue lips and skin, dehydration, rapid breathing, excessive sleeping, seizures,[48] and significant irritability that includes a lack of desire to be held. In adults, shortness of breath, pain in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness or confusion may have indicated the need for emergency care. In both children and adults, persistent vomiting or the return of flu-like symptoms that include a fever and cough may have required medical attention.[45]

Some experts suggest that people with "underlying conditions" who come down with flu symptoms should consult their doctors first before visiting an "emergency room full of sick people" as it "may actually put them in more danger." This was especially true of pregnant women.[46]

Flu infections can also cause pneumonia, a life-threatening illness. In children, a relapse with high fever may indicate a secondary infection of bacterial pneumonia.[49] Reports emphasize children with chronic health problems.[50] Reports of deaths among healthy young people during the first weeks of the 2009 flu pandemic were attributed to pneumonia.

Please tell me how this differs from other strands of influenza?

To reiterate, i have no problem educating the public about healthy living, but I believe a special marketing campaign aimed at H1N1 is only going to add to the already growing hysteria. People get infected with influenza viruses by the thousands every single year with each passing flu season. This year's really no different in that regard.

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Meanwhile, public health officials are fretting over an onrushing fall flu season, the spread of the H1N1 virus and widespread public apathy about the need for vaccination.

I actually agree with Birdy. I'm glad our gov't isn't spending more money than it already is on H1N1 advertising. I see it all over the place. Who isn't getting the message?

Rejecting the message and not hearing the message are two different things.

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Please tell me how this differs from other strands of influenza?

It is essentially a new strain of flu that has only appeared within the last year. Unlike most seasonal flu's, most humans do not have a natural immunity to this one. It is also understood to pass between humans more easily than most other flu's. Currently, its effects are mild to moderate among the general, healthy population, but there is great concern that it could mutate into something more dangerous and turn into a pandemic that could potentially kill millions in under-developed countries. In developed countries, Birdy, you may very well be correct in assuming that the death rate will not be that different from existing seasonal flu's.

Because H1N1 is new and its properties lend itself to potentially problematic spread, health officials are planning for the worst but hoping for the best. SARS is a good example of having to deal quickly to contain an otherwise unknown virus. H1N1 has the potential to become another SARS and officials are taking steps to prevent that.

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I'm not 'mocking' anything PT. I'm questioning the necessity of it at a time when that money could be better spent elsewhere. I understand a 'want' to be prepared, but like Ollie said above, I wonder just how effective a media campaign will be in preparing us, any more than it already has. If anything, I suspect it will make more people weary of travel. And I doubt that's what any government really wants.

and note that the symtoms of the common cold are quite different than the symptoms of H1N1, or "regular" influenza for that matter.

Not that i believe everything wiki tells me, but...

The symptoms of swine flu are similar to other influenzas, and may include a fever, coughing, headaches, pain in the muscles or joints, sore throat, chills, fatigue, and runny nose. Diarrhea, vomiting, and neurological problems were also reported in some cases.

...

As with the seasonal flu, certain symptoms may have required emergency medical attention.

...

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Do condoms reduce the risk of std's? Stupid question, as we all know the answer. We all know the answer because we were properly informed. As this thread indicates, there are a lot of questions remaining about h1n1, which means (even if YOU have all the info) there hasn't been enough info spread around.

As FBN astutely pointed out, the point was actually that while questions still persist amongst the general population with regards to h1n1, the current gov't has allocated fives times as much advertising revenue towards educating the public on how good they're doing at their job (at taxpayers expense) than they are informing the public about h1n1.

And as Birdy pointed out, there seems to be better things we could be doing with those millions of dollars right now.

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From Tuesday's Globe and Mail Last updated on Tuesday, Sep. 22, 2009 03:02AM EDT

A report that the federal government is spending five times as much on touting its economic plans as on educating the public about H1N1 is disturbing, if unsurprising.

The British have been bombarded since the spring with a highly effective "Catch it, Bin it, Kill it" mass advertising campaign by their Department of Health. Radio, TV and full-page advertisements in newspapers have been warning people to practise good hygiene by washing hands frequently and using tissue to cover their noses and mouths. The ads are effective because they are so graphic, focusing on the nasal mucus expelled by a sneeze. One critic complained the ads make sneezing seem like one of the grossest things anyone could do. But in the context of the spread of a potentially fatal flu, that's not much of a stretch. There are even ads targeting children, featuring "Dirty Bertie" and his "revolting habits."

It may not be a coincidence that Britain has just announced a dramatic decline in swine-flu cases, leaving the country "tantalizingly close" to winning its battle against the pandemic, according to its chief medical officer. In Canada, in contrast, with the Public Health Agency's $6.5-million budget a fraction of the $34-million multimedia onslaught celebrating the government's efforts to fight the recession, advertising has been low-key, the production values low, the message stultifying. There's no catchy slogan. In Britain they get "Catch it, Bin it, Kill it." In Canada, we get "Know what to do to fight the H1N1 flu virus (Human swine flu)/Savez-vous quoi faire contre le virus H1N1 (grippe porcine chez l'être humain)." There's no mucus either. It is less a marketing campaign than a dour public service announcement.

The tardiness of the government's educational efforts to stop the spread of H1N1 is surprising. Radio ads have only just appeared, TV ads are promised as imminent. But the timing may matter less than the ads' failure on purely marketing terms. As conceived, the ads will not likely change anyone's habits, and hence any money spent on them is probably wasted anyway. But the government's decision to limit spending on H1N1 education is not an example of fiscal prudence.

Boasting about the government's management of the economy during the recession has an obvious political payback. There are no votes to be had from educational campaigns about public health matters. That could change, however, if Canada's relatively lackadaisical approach to swine-flu prevention is shown to have contributed to a serious outbreak

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I guess i just have a problem with governments creating a sense of fear amongst its citizens for a reason they're not entirely sure will even come about.

a recent CBC Radio program thats really worth a listen:

White Coat Black Art, Sep 19, 2009 (Swinefeld)

We've heard a LOT about the global pandemic of swine flu in recent months. Experts are predicting a deadly second wave of the illness this fall. Accordingly, Canadian health officials are scrambling to put plans in place to handle the expected health crisis. It's costing us millions and millions of dollars. But not everyone believes it's necessary. This week, we ask the question: could this be a pandemic about nothing?

listen to show

Edited by Guest
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i don't know much about this, and i never get flu shots so likely won't get this one either.

but it doesn't seem like a bad idea to me for the govt. and related health agencies to practice/ready themselves for a pandemic (of any sort, not necessarily h1n1). if something happens and we are not ready, well everyone is going to lay blame. don't we want our country to be ready for this type of problem, should it happen in future?

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I don't recall where I heard this - but it's something to the effect that the Canadian government has purchased more vaccines for the H1N1 flu strand than it its infrastructure (health care workers) can administer during the flu season. I totally agree with phorbesie in that i'd want a government capable of dealing with any sort of pandemic should it arise, so if the above is true, wouldn't it make more sense to invest money in the system itself, rather than a tv advertisement which tell us to wash our hands?

If i walked up to any given person on the street and said, 'have you heard of the swine flu?', i doubt i'm going to get many blank stares.

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How about if you walk up to any given person on the street and said, "What can you do to reduce your chances at getting swine flu, and are you at serious risk?" I suspect you'll get a lot of different, and many uninformed answers.

As for the main point of the thread, what do you think of the government ads promoting the goverment?

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