A key Conservative minister is again being accused of blurring the line between government and partisan business, this time because of a small but unmistakable logo on his blue shirt.
Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre attended an event in Halifax Monday organized by his department to promote the government's enhanced Universal Child Care Benefit (UCCB). Starting Monday, some $3 billion in payments are being delivered to parents across Canada.
Several other Tory ministers were also scheduled take part in press conferences highlighting what has been billed as the largest, one-time benefit payment in federal history. The enriched benefit is central to the Conservative party's re-election platform.
Poilievre, who earlier raised eyebrows by describing the day as "Christmas in July," showed up to his news conference sporting a Conservative party golf shirt.
News 95.7 Halifax reporter Andrew Pinsent snapped a photo of Poilievre that quickly made the rounds on Twitter with some questioning why a minister on official business was promoting his party.
However, it's not the first time a Conservative minister has worn a partisan logo at a Government of Canada event.
Tory House Leader Peter Van Loan has been photographed several times wearing shirts and jackets with his name and the Conservative logo on the breast pocket, with the tagline: "Delivering change for the better."
Last spring, Van Loan sported such a jacket when he announced $8.6 million in federal funds to help clean up Lake Simcoe.
He wore a similar jacket in 2009 when he and other Tory MPs got in trouble with the House of Commons Ethics commissioner for using giant novelty cheques with Conservative logos or slogans to announce new federal funds.
In a 2010 report, ethics watchdog Mary Dawson said the practice of using "partisan or personal identifiers in announcing government initiatives goes too far and has the potential to diminish public confidence in the integrity of elected public officials and the governing institutions they represent. "
Dawson said it was understandable that MPs would look for occasions to "enhance their images with constituents" but she said "public spending announcements are government activities, not partisan political activities" and it was "not appropriate to brand them with partisan or personal identifiers."
New Democrats and Liberals — who have already accused Tories of using the benefit to try to buy votes ahead of the next election — were offended by Poilievre's fashion choice.
The NDP released a statement demanding Tory cabinet ministers stop using "public service resources and employees to make partisan announcements on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada."
The federal government's official communications policy demands civil servants perform their duties in a "non-partisan" fashion.
The guide for ministers and ministers of state stresses they ensure "neither you nor your staff seek to engage public servants in work that is outside their appropriate, non-partisan role."
NDP Treasury Board critic Mathieu Ravignat told The Huffington Post Canada that Poilievre's decision to wear such a shirt was "completely unacceptable" and shows he needs to start taking his role as a minister more seriously.
"He needs to recognize that he’s not a cheerleader for the Conservative party," Ravignat said.
Ravignat said Monday's events were more about "pre-electoral posturing" than providing information for Canadians and exemplify why rules need to be strengthened to make clear distinctions between government and partisan business.
"Unfortunately there is nothing right now on the books that… prevents this kind of behaviour," he said. "The integrity commissioner doesn’t have the power, the law doesn’t have the power to keep ministers from doing this kind of thing.
"There needs to be built in a review and a disciplinary process to make sure government advertising remains objective."
Liberal MP Adam Vaughan told HuffPost that Dawson’s report made it clear that party logos at government events cross the line.
"When you're doing government business you're not supposed to slap partisan logos on cheques, T-shirts, your forehead or even your letterhead," Vaughan said. "[Poilievre's] broken the rules and that tells you everything you need to know about the Conservatives."
The Liberal MP said the rollout for the benefit — which included a photo-op last month in Winnipeg where Poilievre watched UCCB cheques being printed — was all about "putting lipstick on a pig."
"What he isn't telling people is that the money is going to be taxed. And what he also isn't telling people is that it disproportionately helps affluent families once again," he said. "If it's good policy, you don't need to sell it in such a partisan manner."
HuffPost also reached out to Poilievre's office for comment.
Under the changes, monthly payments for every Canadian child under the age of six will increase to $160 from $100. Children between the age of six to 17 will earn their parents $60 month.
The payments are also retroactive to Jan. 1, meaning parents can receive up to $520 for kids under six and $420 for every child six to 17.
The Liberals have said that, if elected, they would replace the enriched UCCB with a “Canada Child Benefit” that would provide larger, tax-free cheques for middle and low-income families. New Democrats have promised to keep the benefit and still create a million child care spaces at a cost of no more than $15 per day.
Poilievre also sparked controversy in the spring after it was revealed he used taxpayer dollars to produce YouTube videos of himself promoting the UCCB. Though derided as "vanity videos" by the opposition, Poilievre said he would make “no apologies” for trying to inform parents about the changes.
With files from The Canadian Press
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