07/20/2015 10:41 EDT | Updated 07/20/2016 05:59 EDT

Pierre Poilievre criticized for announcing child tax benefits wearing party logo

HALIFAX - Pierre Poilievre's decision to wear a Conservative Party golf shirt during an announcement Monday on the rollout of increased child care benefits payments is being criticized by the opposition as an attempt to put a party brand on public money.

The employment minister donned the blue shirt with the party crest in Halifax as he kicked off a national effort to tout $3 billion in benefit payments being sent out to families.

Since 2006, the government has handed out monthly payments of $100 for every child in Canada under age six. As of Monday, the payment rises to $160 a month, and children age six to 17 earn their parents $60 per month.

The increased payments are retroactive for the past six months, meaning a one-time payment now going out to parents could be up $520 for children under six, and up to $420 for every child six to 17.

NDP Treasury Board critic Mathieu Ravignat — whose party is arguing the money would be better spent on a national child care program — says it's not appropriate for Poilievre to wear party logos while announcing funding approved by Parliament.

"He was speaking about the policy while wearing the shirt. There was a clear attempt to brand the Conservative Party by wearing this shirt and that's ethically unacceptable," Ravignat said in a telephone interview.

Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, the party critic for Housing and Urban Affairs, cited a 2010 ruling by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner that criticized the use of Conservative party logos on cheques and other props during federal announcements.

"Government announcements aren't supposed to be made with party logos, that's why they got in trouble with the novelty cheques," he said, referring to a series of government announcements when Conservative candidates were criticized for handing out cheques with the party brand on them.

The minister was unavailable for comment about the opposition criticisms of his golf shirt.

However, during the news conference he said the benefits cheques put the choice on child care in the hands of parents.

"Parents get to spend the money however they like, including on daycare if that's their choice," he told reporters. "Liberals and NDP will take all this money away and spend it on big, bureaucratic programs that never deliver any results to families."

The politics around the increased benefits weren't lost on the many Canadians who responded to the call of several Conservative MPs asking people to post messages on Twitter or Facebook about receiving the cheques.

A common refrain was thanks, but ...

"Tx I'll take it but Harper will NEVER buy my vote," wrote the McLean family from Sydney, N.S. on Transport Canada Minister Lisa Raitt's Facebook page.

"Got it," wrote Edmonton father Rick Watson on Twitter in response to a message from Tory MP Tim Uppal.

"Still won't buy my vote though!"

Poilievre had earlier referenced the rollout of the cheques as being similar to Christmas in July and people were quick to pounce on that theme to bemoan the fact that the benefits are taxable.

"When was the last time you paid taxes on your Santa presents?," wrote Emily Wright, a social justice advocate from Toronto on her Twitter account.

Several people did say the cheques would go to child care expenses, though others noted that with day care costs as high as $90 a day in some places, the added bucks don't go a long way.

But that doesn't mean they aren't welcome.

"It means I can afford bus fare to leave my neighbourhood and don't have to disguise it to my kid as a 'fun scooter ride,'" wrote Toronto-based freelance writer Septembre Anderson on her Twitter account.

Speaking in Fredericton, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said his plan for a child care benefit includes a larger, tax-free monthly payment targeted at families who need it most.

The federal NDP also highlighted its plan for a national child care strategy.

"The NDP will maintain the child benefit but we recognize that it isn't enough to help families cover the growing costs of childcare," said Dartmouth-Cole Harbour MP Robert Chisholm in an email.