University of Toronto
3 min

Harper continues to break his own rules – Ignatieff

In the Charles Lynch Press Theatre, Michael Ignatieff and Martha Hall Findlay arrived looking sober and serious. Ignatieff, in his pink shirt and light red tie, Hall Findlay in her Moonstone Yellow bolero-ish jacket, got right down to business.

“Martha Hall Findlay and I are here this morning to identify a scandal,” Ignatieff began. “A flagrant misuse of taxpayer’s money.”

He outlined that the government doubled the size of its advertising budget since it came to power, and how it spent $34 million into the “flagrant promotion of its own partisan agenda, using taxpayer’s money,” to promote it’s Economic Action Plan, a site which also referred people to the Prime Minister’s social media sites.

“This is in flagrant disregard of government guidelines that prohibit the use of public funds for partisan political advertising.”

Ignatieff said that they were not only there to denounce it, but to do more. He promised that a Liberal government “will plug the loopholes in existing communications guidelines that allow these abuses to occur, and we want to take a leaf out of the Ontario Government.”

Indeed – this kind of abuse of government advertising was apparently flagrant under the Mike Harris government in Ontario, and when McGuinty became premier, they set up an independent oversight body for government advertising. Funnily enough, Mike Harris’ chief of staff, Guy Giorno, is now Stephen Harper’s chief of staff.

This should of course surprise no one. The Harper government has a long history of ignoring rules – even the ones they created (such as the fixed election date) – as well as having a flagrant disregard for the rule of law. But can they turn this into another Sponsorship Scandal? I somehow doubt it.

Ignatieff went on to talk about his press conference with Gerard Kennedy yesterday, where Kennedy revealed his findings in which only twelve percent of stimulus spending was out the door, and mostly to Conservative ridings. He also brought up the way that the government has been using departmental websites to do petty partisan things, like making sure that Ignatieff was nowhere to be seen in any of the photos where MPs were on the Hill to have pork sandwiches to support the pork industry in the country in the face of H1N1 – and the Toronto Star uncovered documents which referred to this explicitly.

Hall Findlay brought up the rules that the Harper government is breaking, where Harper is trying to turn himself into a national symbol.

During reporters’ questions, Ignatieff took the “perfectly fair question” on how he’s different from the Conservatives. After talking about how he’d “do politics” differently, he broke it down as such: “I said in my speech on Monday that one of the clear differences between our two parties is that Mr. Harper is a free market ideologue. Mr. Harper thinks the ‘market miracle’ will create growth in the Canadian economy, and if he sits back, the ‘market miracle’ will get us back to three percent growth. And I’m saying, as clearly as I can, you’re not going to get there without an activist, investing, passionate government. The differences are very clear – he thinks growth will come to the ‘market miracle’.  I think growth will come the way it’s always come in the Canadian economy – when the government leads.”

Other questions around Martin Cauchon (Ignatieff wants him in the House, and they’re in discussions), Iran (Ignatieff agrees with the boycott and sanctions against them), but it came back to the broken rules. If they are indeed broken, what are they going to do about it?

Hall Findlay said that they’re investigating whether to report them to Treasury Board, Elections Canada – as a violation of financing rules – or even both. But one can already imagine what the Conservative response would be if Elections Canada made one more investigation against them, given that the Conservatives voted against supporting the oversight body in the House already.