No one likes getting mail from the Canada Revenue Agency. Usually, anyway.
But when Edmonton mom Rosemary Ronald opened one letter two weeks ago, she discovered what was intended to be good news: a description of a "proposed" government family benefit soon available to her family, accompanying a request to confirm information they already had (based on past tax filings) about her child.
"I just found it a little rich for the CRA to be asking me to confirm that information when they have that information," she told CBC News. "They know if I have a child and his birthday."
The Harper government — in the form of government departments, not the Conservative party — has kicked off an advertising blitz, including expensive prime-time television ad buys during high-rated NHL playoff games.
The focus of this media push is Tuesday's federal budget, including the family tax package announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last fall.
They want all Canadian families to know that new monthly payments are available not just for children under six but children under 18 as well. Human Resources Minister Pierre Poilievre held news conferences last week encouraging families to "sign up" so they don't miss out on benefits to which they are now entitled.
But there's some fine print on the advertising: the word "proposed."
While Parliament has adopted a motion accepting the measures in principle — which allows CRA to recognize them — the legislation to implement these payments was only introduced a few weeks ago. It's weeks away from passing through all stages of Parliament and being made official.
Other measures contained in Tuesday's budget haven't even received preliminary Parliamentary approval, and yet the government is already telling Canadians they can contribute the new maximum amount of $10,000 to their tax-free savings accounts immediately.
Taxpayers footing 'ad' bill
What's curious is that the government feels this push is necessary. After all, anyone claiming dependents on their tax filings in past year has already provided information, as Ronald points out, about how many children they have and what their ages are.
If the benefits are truly universal, couldn't these payments be made automatically without any additional need to "sign up"?
And if so, what prompted Ronald's targeted letter from the CRA? The neutral government agency's mandate or Conservative party strategy?
She thinks she knows.
"In my opinion, it was Conservative party advertising — but sent through CRA and, of course, paid for by us the taxpayers."
Not surprisingly, opposition parties don't appreciate this kind of government spending so close to a general election call.
"Conservatives stray towards the politics all the time — campaigning all the time — and use every tool at their disposal and, I think, sometimes breaking the rules," NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen told CBC.
"It gets to a point where enough is enough. You have to put up with those terrible ads during the hockey games, and now you are being sent propaganda through government agencies that really is just Conservative party material," Cullen said.
"The Harper government has crossed the line," Liberal critic Scott Brison agrees. "They are using Canadian tax dollars to pay for Conservative quasi-partisan advertising."
The government, however, says its duty is to inform Canadians about the benefits to which they are — and may be — entitled. And so the departmental spending on advertising the 2015 version of the Economic Action Plan continues.
With files from James Fitz-Morris
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