Lawsuit claims publicly funded ads boosting B.C. Liberal Party ahead of election

B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to reporters in Ottawa on Dec. 9, 2016. Photo by Alex Tétreault.

Two Vancouver lawyers have filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against the British Columbia government and the governing Liberal party alleging misuse of taxpayer dollars for partisan advertising.

David Fai and Paul Doroshenko filed a notice of claim in B.C. Supreme Court alleging the provincial government spent taxpayer dollars on advertising last year that enhanced the B.C. Liberal Party's image while promoting the province.

They assert that the government spent as much as $15 million on ads enhancing the Liberal party and they want it to reimburse the province for those commercials if the court finds they are partisan.

"We're saying that's a misappropriation of public funds and a breach of the public trust and it needs to end," Fai said at a news conference outside the courthouse Monday.

Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson responded on behalf of the government, saying in a statement that it uses the ads to inform the public about important services and programs including the opioid overdose crisis that killed more than 900 people last year.

The government has seen an increase in the public participation in programs when they are advertised, he said, adding that "these campaigns clearly work."

He said the government has worked with the auditor general to ensure information campaigns are fact-based, inform the public and adhere to policies that state no public funds should be used for political advertising.

The Liberal party was not immediately available to respond to the claims made in the court documents.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Doroshenko said they want the court to determine whether ads in the lead-up to the May 9 provincial election are non-partisan.

David Trapp, a White Rock resident who is the representative plaintiff, told reporters that he watched government ads while undergoing cancer treatment last year and he says he believes that money could have been better spent on the health care system.

The lawyers say the case could take months or years to make it through the courts, but they intend to file an injunction ahead of the election in an effort to stop the ads.

 

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