OTTAWA - The Harper government is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars advertising a program that does not yet exist.
Prime-time ads began airing this week during NHL playoff games — currently the priciest advertising real estate on the dial — that tout a new federal Canada Jobs Grant for training workers.
The trouble is, the freshly announced program is at present little more than a concept that has yet to be negotiated with provincial governments, and requires buy-in from employers as well.
Peter Van Loan, the Conservative government House leader, described the Canada Jobs Grant last week as a "proposal that needs to be fleshed out and developed fully."
"What we've announced is a concept of how it could work," Van Loan said in Toronto as the government began what it calls roundtable consultations on the proposal.
The concept requires that Ottawa, the province and the employer kick in up to $5,000 each toward the training of a worker.
Legislation to create the federal training grant is still months away from even being considered by Parliament — which is why the TV ads note in fine print that the program is "subject to parliamentary approval."
But the program will also require provincial agreement, and that of business.
"The Canada Job Grant will be introduced as part of the renewal of the labour market agreements with the provinces and territories in 2014-15," Human Resources and Skills Development said in an emailed response.
"Its final design will be negotiated with provinces and territories over the next year, in consultation with stakeholder groups."
The department did not respond directly to questions about the ethics of spending public funds to advertise programs and services that do not exist.
"It is important the government communicates about programs that benefit Canadians and their families," said the email.
The Conservative government has come under increasing scrutiny for its lavish spending on feel-good "economic action plan" ads that deliver little useable information but tell viewers that Canada's economy is flourishing. Ottawa has spent at least $113 million on the ads since 2009.
No budget was provided for the latest media blitz, but with ads on Hockey Night in Canada costing up to $95,000 per 30-second spot, the ad buy could easily be in the millions of dollars.
An anti-Harper protest group with a naughty name, found at www.shd.ca, has been soliciting money to air its own TV ad mocking the government's "economic action plan" blitz.
The group said Friday that it had raised $66,000, two-thirds of the cost of a single airing during Hockey Night in Canada.
Jonathan Rose, an expert in political advertising, called the Canada Jobs Grant advertisement "misleading."
Rose, a political science professor at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., sits on Ontario's independent government advertising advisory board, which is legislated to ensure government ads are non-partisan, informative and fact-based.
He said the currents ad's "proviso — 'subject to parliamentary approval' — does not offset the verb 'will partner' or 'will result,' which makes it seem like a foregone conclusion."
"Government ads are not excluded from the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards and I think this would fail tests of accuracy and clarity on a number of levels," said Rose.
Agnes Maltais, Quebec's minister for employment and social solidarity, was equally blunt.
French-language versions of the ad are running in Quebec, where the provincial government has already stated it is not interested in taking part.
"The ads on the Canadian job grant are the blatant proof of the bad faith of the federal government," Maltais said in an email.
"On one side, the federal government says it wants to 'negotiate' with the provinces the reform of the job market deals, and on the other side it launches ads selling the Canadian job grant."
Liberal MP John McCallum, the party's Treasury Board critic, called the current ads "totally offside."
Imagine Stephen Harper's reaction if past Liberal governments had spent millions of dollars advertising universal daycare or the Kelowna Accord while the measures were still being hashed out, McCallum said.
"I think he would have gone apoplectic, and rightly so."
Mathieu Ravignat, the NDP Treasury Board critic, said the whole idea of parliamentary approval appears to have "become a farce" for the majority Conservatives.
No Canadian can access the program being advertised, he noted.
"It's about selling the Conservative brand to Canadians," said Ravignat.
"They know things are not as rosy as they would like to paint them with regards to the economy. It's about appearing like good financial managers, good job creators, and it's about damage control."
"This is all sorts of wrong."
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You Eat Half, And I'll Eat Half
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Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves after going for an ATV ride as he visits a farm for a campaign event in Wainfleet Ont., on Monday, April 4, 2011.
Nom Nom Nom
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Prime Minister Stephen Harper plays with foster kittens at 24 Sussex. May 1, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=900&media_category_typ_id=6&media_id=5512" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper throws a small snowball at photographers after talking with reporters at a campaign stop in Guelph, Ontario Saturday, Jan. 21, 2006.
Thank God You're Not Wearing Overalls
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives Taylor Swift the book "Maple Leaf Forever" before her concert at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. May 20, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=900&media_category_typ_id=6&media_id=5512" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Stephen Harper <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/23/harper-wedding-photos-ottawa_n_2006374.html" target="_blank">surprises an Ottawa couple on their wedding day</a> in 2012.
Yep, Definitely A Cat Person
Laureen Harper laughs as she holds a husky dog with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as they tour Caribou Crossing, Yukon, south of Whitehorse Monday August 20, 2012.
Stephen Harper, his children Ben and Rachel, and wife Laureen cross Abbey Road in 2009. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/12OfGXN" target="_blank">Facebook</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper hams it up with Bonhomme Carnaval in the Prime Minister's Centre Block Office. November 25, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1238&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, far left, watches a third round match between Agnieszka Radwanska, of Poland, and Serbia's Jelena Jankovic with his children Rachel, center, and Benjamin, right, at the 2012 US Open tennis tournament, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, in New York.
Psst! I Like Your Hat
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, speaks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2011.
Whoops, How Did This Get In Here...
Part of a painting of Prime Minister Stephen Harper fully nude, by Kingston artist Maggie Sutherland, is shown at the Central Kingston public library in Kingston, Ont. on May 18, 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his son Ben watch a bloopers show while attending the Calgary Flames NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Calgary, Saturday, April 11, 2009.
In The Key Of C Major
Prime Minister Stephen Harper practices a few chords after arriving at home from work. February 19, 2011. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1457&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Love You, Mom
Conservative leader Stephen Harper gets a hug from his mother Margaret during a visit to his campaign office in Calgary, Saturday May 29, 2004.
We Can't All Grow A Pirate 'Stache Like Trudeau
Prime Minister Stephen Harper holds up a moustache scarf to kick off the start of ‘Movember’, November 1, 2012 Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8146161138/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
The Sweet Side Of Politics
Senior Legislative Assistant, Katherine Locke, left, and Government House Leader Special Assistant, Zoe Lawson, show off their House of Commons gingerbread house to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his office on Dec. 16, 2010. The gingerbread house was filled with rows of gummi bears as members of Parliament. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1355&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves to tourists as he walks on the beach after the closing of the VI Summit of the Americas on April 15, 2012 in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper plays a game of table tennis with Team Canada's Mo Zhang at Canada House in London on Tuesday, June 5, 2012.
Whaddya Mean It Doesn't Fit?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper tries on an old hockey helmet at he tours the Yukon's Hockey History exhibit at the McBride Museum in Whitehorse, Yukon on Thursday, August 25, 2011.
Stephen Harper, his son Ben, and Wayne Gretzky watch the men's ice hockey team's gold medal game at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8457917081/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Who Said Politics Can't Be Fun?
Stephen Harper and his son Ben hit balloons into the crowd after his speech at the party's three-day policy convention in Montreal on Friday March 18, 2005.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Jamie Robinson (guitar) play along with Blue Rodeo's front man Jim Cuddy, and recording artist Jimmy Rankin as they belt out a tune during a Juno Awards reception at 24, Sussex March 31, 2012. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=2099&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, looks up from dishing out pancakes at Stampede breakfast in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, July 10, 2011.
I Spy Something Cute
Stephen Harper welcomes two Chinese pandas at Toronto's Pearson Airport on March 25, 2013. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8588948719/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
A young Stephen Harper.
Just Smile And Back Away Slowly
Clowns ham it up with Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Moncton, New Brunswick. July 19, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1037&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, throws Senator Gerry St. Germain's cowboy hat into the crowd after presenting him with a new one as his wife Margaret St. Germain, right, laughs during a barbecue at St. Germain's ranch in Surrey, B.C., on Monday August 6, 2012.
Thumbs Up, Up And Away
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives the thumbs up from the cockpit of his campaign plane as he arrives in Ottawa,Tuesday May 3, 2011.
He's A Belieber
Stephen Harper presents Justin Bieber with a Diamond Jubilee Medal on Nov. 23, 2012. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8212520594/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
I'm With Him
Stephen Harper and Wayne Gretzky, joined by students on an outdoor ice rink in Saskatoon on Feb. 5, 2010. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/ZTlKy6" target="_blank"> Facebook</a>
Shhh... This Is The Best Part
Stephen Harper, wife Laureen and Suraksha, Grade 10, visit an IMAX theatre in Bangalore, India on Nov. 8, 2012.
Umm... This Is My Costume
Prime Minister Stephen Harper poses for a photograph with Halloween trick-or-treaters at his official residence in Ottawa, Wednesday, October 31, 2012.
Is It Cold, Or Is It Just Me?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper bundles up in a parka as he tours Frobisher Bay in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Thursday, February 23, 2012.
One Of Harper's Many Hats
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Say, 'Happy Halloween!'
Prime Minister Stephen Harper points out the camera to baby Grayson, dressed up as a giraffe, during his first time trick-or-treating at 24 Sussex. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/10ppG5w" target="_blank">Facebook</a>
Stephen Harper hugs his daughter Rachel Hugging Rachel as results come in after the 2011 election. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/15WI2TY" target="_blank">Facebook</a>