The 2002 Harper Wouldn't Be Happy With The 2014 Harper's Ad Spending

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STEPHEN HARPER 2002
Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper asks a question of Prime Minister Jean Chretien during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa Tuesday May 21, 2002. (CP PHOTO/Fred Chartrand) | CP

Let's go back to May 21, 2002.

The Canadian Alliance had recently chosen former Reform MP and National Citizen Coalition president Stephen Harper as its leader.

And on his first day as Opposition leader, with the sponsorship scandal beginning to emerge as a problem for Jean Chretien's Liberals, young Harper led off question period by calling out the government for what he saw as careless advertising spending.

"Given the growing evidence of widespread waste and mismanagement of government advertising business and the fact that the government's incompetent handling of its advertising and sponsorship is already under review, will the prime minister stop the waste and abuse right now and order a freeze of all discretionary government advertising?" he asked.

Now, some 12 years later, one has to wonder what Opposition leader Stephen Harper would say about the fact that, as prime minister, he would go on to spend millions of taxpayer dollars advertising a program that doesn't even exist yet.

And that his Conservative government would actually drop more money on ads than Chretien's Liberals.

CBC News reported Monday that Ottawa spent more than $2.5 million in a publicity blitz for the Canada Jobs Grant — a controversial program announced in the 2013 budget which has been put on hold and largely panned by the provinces and territories.

The proposed program would provide a grant of $15,000 to workers for skills training, with the federal government, provinces or territories and employers each kicking in $5,000.

Yet, the provinces and territories maintain it won't give them enough flexibility to direct the funds where they are needed most and could jeopardize existing provincially run programs that help disadvantaged groups.

They say they'd have to come up with more than $600 million to maintain their current programs as well as match the cost of the Canada Job Grant.

As a result, the program may never come to fruition unless some kind of compromise is reached.

But that didn't stop Conservatives from rolling out pricey ads touting the merits of the non-existent program during the NHL playoffs last May. Commercials on Hockey Night in Canada can reportedly cost up to $95,000 per 30-second spot.

According to the National Post, Advertising Standards Canada received 20 consumer complaints over the ad embedded below and, after a review, declared it was indeed "misleading" and breached the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards by omitting "relevant information."

To make matters worse, it appears the ads flopped anyway.

Postmedia's Tobi Cohen wrote Monday that, according to a public opinion survey conducted over the summer, eighty-five per cent of Canadian participants couldn't recall seeing the Jobs Grant ads that ran for seven weeks in the spring.

So, in summation, more than $2.5 million of taxpayer money was spent on advertising which touted a program that doesn't exist and fell on deaf ears.

Of course, the Conservative government has also been roundly criticized for spending more than $100 million on Economic Action Plan ads since 2009 that have been criticized as "thinly disguised Conservative propaganda."

But Tories have defended their advertising as necessary to keep Canadians informed about relevant programs and services.

Even if that means spending more than Chretien's Liberals.

According to CBC News, Harper's government spent more than $136 million on advertising in 2009-2010, while at its peak, the Liberal government dropped $111 million on ads in 2002-2003.

And it appears the prime minister's change of heart regarding government advertising isn't sitting well with Gregory Thomas of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Thomas wrote in December that Harper was actually right on his first day on the job when he took a stand against wasteful ad spending.

"Stephen Harper would do well to pull up a video recording of that first question period exchange and listen to the young man confronting the Prime Minister," he wrote. "He was right then, and those who think this advertising is a waste, are right now."

With files from The Canadian Press

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