OTTAWA — The Harper government says placing the Conservative party logo on mock federal cheques is clearly offside, but individual Tory MPs are free to highlight their names on the promotional placards.
It’s the latest twist in a Canada-wide promotion of last January’s federal budget that opposition critics say is designed to win maximum partisan advantage for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government — all at taxpayers’ expense.
“This is Canadian taxpayers’ money and it’s an abuse of the system by the Harper messaging machine,” said Liberal MP Wayne Easter.
“It’s an abuse of power.”
Nova Scotia MP Gerald Keddy, the junior secretary for International Trade, had his knuckles publicly rapped Wednesday by Harper after presenting two separate mock federal stimulus cheques bearing the Conservative party logo.
That’s a flagrant breach of government rules under the Federal Identity Program.
“The MP in question has admitted that was a mistake and should not be repeated,” Harper said in Wabamun.
But Harper’s officials insist there’s nothing wrong with Tory MPs presenting government cheques on which their own name, or Tory sloganeering, is the most prominent feature.
Literally dozens of examples can be found on the web as the Conservatives have embarked on what Liberals are calling an “announce-a-rama.”
The program fits hand-in-glove with a national ad campaign highlighting Tory budget measures that’s costing taxpayers at least $34 million this year.
B.C. Tory Dick Harris alone has more than 20 different spending announcement photos on his web site, all prominently emblazoned with his name across the cheque.
Ontario backbencher Larry Miller has posted several similar photos. The Government of Canada logo appears in a bottom corner, about half the size of Miller’s name across the top of the cheque.
Cabinet minister Gary Goodyear is pictured presenting a cheque for $19,500 to a folk festival in his southern Ontario riding. The top third of the cheque is a Tory blue band with a red Maple Leaf over the words “Strong Leadership. A better Canada.” That is exactly the party identifier employed across the top of every single Conservative MP’s personal website.
A Harper spokesman said there was no direct government order telling Tory MPs to claim personal credit for taxpayer-funded stimulus or infrastructure projects.
“The short answer is no, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with members of Parliament taking credit for the fact that — due to their hard work — we’re moving forward on important projects,” said PMO spokesman Dimitri Soudas.
Soudas promised to provide photos of former Liberal government cheques as proof.
Instead, of the eight photos produced by Soudas, only one showed a Liberal MP’s signature on a mock government cheque, and that signature was almost illegible compared to the prominent Government of Canada designation across the top.
Peter Stoffer, a veteran New Democrat MP from Nova Scotia, said that during more than nine years under the former Liberal government he saw many cheque presentations, but “it was always the Government of Canada on it and their names were nowhere near the cheques.”
Stoffer has written federal ethics counsellor Mary Dawson asking her to probe the Tory cheque practices.
The auditor general, meanwhile, is preparing a report for release in the fall of 2010 on the Economic Action Plan.