01/04/2015 02:49 EST | Updated 03/06/2015 05:59 EST

Canada's 150th Birthday Party Costs Rising But No Plans In Sight

canadian flag waiving against...

OTTAWA - Talk about an expensive birthday party invitation.

Recently released federal spending figures show advertising promoting Canada's 150th birthday — two years from now — has cost nearly $12 million, so far.

That's $5 million more than the government had said last fall it was spending on Canada 150 advertising, because they're now including other programs as part of the party.

An estimated $6.5 million is being spent producing and running ads about the Charlottetown and Quebec conferences currently running on social media and mainstream media channels clearly tagged as being connected to the anniversary.

But the Conservatives are also bundling their campaign marking the bicentennial of the War of 1812 under the Canada 150 banner, adding the $5.2 million already spent on that to the cost of advertising upcoming national birthday celebrations.

The War of 1812 ad campaign was the first of a series along the road to 2017, said Marisa Monnin, a spokeswoman for Heritage Minister Shelley Glover.

"Through these advertising campaigns, the government of Canada will encourage Canadians to learn more about their history, commemorate events, celebrate accomplishments and honour people that helped shape what Canada is today," she said in an email.

The cost of the ads was published in an answer to an order paper question posed by the Liberals in which they asked for spending on Canada 150 advertising by department between 2010 and 2020.

Only the Canadian Heritage Department had figures to share so far, and they detail spending up until the 2014-2015 fiscal year; the documents say spending after that is not yet available.

Liberal heritage critic Stephane Dion said the ad buy seems like a case of the government seeking to burnish its image.

While they're running ads, they've yet to unveil any actual events to mark the milestone, he said.

"It's a manipulative government and they blur the line between governmental information and partisan ads," he said.

"Some of the Fathers of Confederation ads are well done, but since there is no plan behind that, you see that what they want to be is to be seen by Canadians are doing something."

Monnin says the plans are in the works, but didn't disclose details.

The Conservatives have long been attacked for using government ads in a partisan manner; one sore spot was the $2.5 million spent advertising an apprenticeship program before the program was even official.

The Treasury Board, which oversees government operations, maintains rules on government communications which specify they must be non-partisan.

It's the responsibility of bureaucrats, not politicians, to ensure government ads comply, said Treasury Board President Tony Clement.

"It's up to each government department to adhere to the guidelines," he said in a recent interview.

"I can't be a traffic cop."

While in Ontario, the provincial auditor general reviews government ads before publication to ensure their political neutrality, no such rules are in place at the federal level, though the Liberals have introduced a private member's bill on the subject.

The extent to which the government has used federal funds to promote itself is a violation of the democratic process, said NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus.

"There are rules, but the problem is that this government believes that rules are for other people," he said.

"They believe that taxpayers' money should be used for whatever they feel it should be used for in terms of promoting very partisan party interests of the Conservative party."

Also on HuffPost

  • The Carbon Bubble
    The Carbon Bubble
    The carbon bubble is the idea that if the world’s governments meet targets to limit climate change to 2 degrees Celsius by cutting carbon emissions, there will be a glut of fossil fuels on the market that cannot be burned.

    The concern is that when investors realize oil companies will have to leave much of the product they own in the ground, oil company stocks will collapse, leading to a crisis in the industry that could affect Canada. Among the people concerned about a carbon bubble is former Bank of Canada governor and current Bank of England governor Mark Carney.
  • Opposition To Keystone XL And Other Pipelines
    Opposition To Keystone XL And Other Pipelines
    Protesters participate in an anti-Keystone pipeline demonstration in New York's Foley Square on November 18, 2014 in New York City. (Getty)
    Many in Canada’s oil sector have been holding their breath to see whether the U.S. approves the Keystone pipeline,which would see tarry bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands pumped south for export from the U.S.

    President Barack Obama did not have very nice things to say about Keystone in his year-end press conference, leading some to believe he’s bent on rejecting it. The lack of a functional pipeline capable of getting the oilsands crude to international markets has held back the price of crude produced there. There’s also massive domestic opposition to homegrown alternatives such as the Energy East Pipeline or Northern Gateway.
  • Elections, At Home And Abroad
    Elections, At Home And Abroad
    The House of Commons in the Parliament of Canada. (Getty)
    This promises to be a big year for elections around the world, with votes at home and abroad. The Conservatives presided over a Canadian recession that was relatively mild compared to much of the world, but after nearly a decade of Conservative rule, voters could be ready for a change.

    The U.K. is looking ahead to an election in May. If the U.K.'s Conservative Party wins and follows through with its promise to hold a referendum on EU membership, it would be a further blow to the Eurozone. The U.S. is looking ahead to an election in 2016, and the year before an election in that country has proven to be an often interesting, volatile ride.
  • Sinking Commodity Prices
    Sinking Commodity Prices
    Weak demand and a glut of supply are keeping prices of commodities low, and it doesn’t just affect Canada’s oil patch. The mining sector, one of the heaviest hitters on the Toronto Stock Exchange, could see a resulting slowdown in investment in projects and hiring.
  • A Rise In Interest Rates
    A Rise In Interest Rates
    Canada, along with the U.S., is on track for an interest rate hike in 2015. It would be the first since 2010 and consumers — particularly on this side of the border — have continued to pile on debt loads and take out large mortgages in the years of low interest rates.

    While any hike is expected to be gradual, it could be a shock to some households who are struggling to pay back debt. A higher interest rate could sink more Canadians into bankruptcy and could cause a slowdown in the housing sector, which has propped up Canada’s economy in the years since the recession.
  • Debt Loads, Yet Again
    Debt Loads, Yet Again
    Economists have been warning consumers for years that debt loads are growing to astronomical levels, and that could be a huge risk if interest rates rise. In Canada, the household debt-to-income ratio rose to a new record high of 162.6 per cent in the most recent quarter.

    And things are not much better south of the border, where consumer debt is worth a total of $3.2 trillion and where there has been a resurgence in subprime lending, the risky banking practice that helped spark the global economic crisis in 2008.
  • Global Instability And Terrorism
    Global Instability And Terrorism
    Pro-ISIS demonstrators in Mosul, Iraq, June 16, 2014. (AP)
    An increase in terrorism and geopolitical instability doesn’t inspire confidence in investors. Threats from ISIS and other terrorist organizations have dominated headlines in the past year and such political uncertainty could spill over into broader conflicts or destabilize markets.
  • Russia
    Russian President Vladimir Putin (Getty)
    Russia’s ruble has sunk by about 40 per cent in the past few weeks, and the country could soon find itself in recession, partly due to Western sanctions over its aggressive behaviour in Ukraine.

    As a G8 country, it is a large source of demand for Canadian exports. The country already slapped retaliatory sanctions on Canada in 2014 and the lack of trade could hit Canada’s overall trade figures.
  • China
    A newly built 'ghost town' near Beijing shows the risk of a housing bubble in the country. (Getty)
    Chinese growth has been a massive driver of the global economy but is losing momentum, affecting the entire global supply chain. Investors are hoping that China’s GDP growth does not come in worse than the 7-per-cent rate it has predicted.

    A chain reaction caused by the slowdown in China could be particularly concerning for Canada, which had been protected from the worst of the Great Recession, benefitting from Chinese manufacturing’s demand for commodities. In addition, the unrest in Hong Kong, one of the world’s financial hubs, is not over, posing a risk of more uncertainty in the region.
  • Greece
    Greek farmers shout slogans during a protest in central Athens, on Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014. (AP)
    That’s right, Greece is still causing Europe, and global markets, some serious headaches five years after its sovereign debt crisis was first brought to light. It is again making headlines as the new year approaches, with legislators rejecting Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s nomination for president, Stavros Dimas, triggering a snap election.

    Polls favour anti-austerity candidates, which could see the country pull away from its debt obligations under its bailout plan with the Eurozone, stoking concerns for the rest of the continent, which is already struggling with sky high unemployment and a shaky financial system. A slowdown in Europe would have knock-on consequences for Canada.
  • Tanking Oil Prices
    Tanking Oil Prices
    After five years of relatively stable crude prices, oil prices have dropped nearly 50 per cent since June to their lowest level in five years. The drop is a double-edged sword for the Canadian economy. The IMF says it could boost global economic growth by as much as 0.8 percentage points above the expected 3.8 per cent. It’s also good news for consumers, whose savings at the gas pump could translate into more spending elsewhere.

    However, if oil continues to hover between $60 to $70 a barrel, it could expose weaknesses in oil-dependent countries and companies and even push some to default on debt obligations. The tanking price is bad for Canada’s oilsands, a major source of domestic economic growth and could push the loonie lower.