There’s an old saying about politicians using your own money to buy your vote.
In Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government this summer, that adage comes with a visual aid: Huge blue cheques emblazoned with the maple leaf logo of the Canadian government, the signature of a benevolent MP and, in some cases, Conservative sloganeering.
Some critics and even constituents say the government is blurring the line between its public and partisan jobs with the big cheques, just a few years after the sponsorship scandal in Quebec, when federal Liberals were also accused of using government money to further their partisan aims against the Bloc Québécois.
Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan (York-Simcoe) showed up a couple of weeks ago at a summer festival in his riding, bearing two of the cheques to symbolize a $1.26-million infusion of cash to the small town of Innisfil.
They were done with the minister’s signature, to appear as though Van Loan himself was signing over Canadian taxpayers’ money, and bore the slogan: “Delivering Change for the Better.”
Other Conservative MPs have been photographed with the same kind of props.
Syd Lucas, one of Van Loan’s constituents, was not pleased with the message conveyed by the cheques.
“Let’s be clear that these monies are part of Government of Canada programs funded by our tax dollars. This is not money from the Conservative party,” Lucas wrote to the Toronto Star. “Government programs should never be used to advertise for the party in power.”
Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for the Prime Minister, didn’t comment on the appropriateness of the cheques.
Gerard Kennedy, the Liberals’ infrastructure critic, says he’s not surprised the Conservatives are politicizing funding announcements.
He cites the Liberals’ findings earlier this year, showing that 78 per cent of Building Canada funds were going to Conservative ridings.
• The federal Treasury Board guards how the official “face” and “voice” of the government are presented.
• The Treasury Board looked at the cheques this week, and spokesman Robert Makichuk said there is nothing in the formal identity policy “that would prohibit the use of a prop cheque” containing the Canada logo or Conservative slogans.
• The political props were reportedly the brainchild of Transport Minister John Baird when he served as Treasury Board minister in the first year of the Harper government.