Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are accusing Stephen Harper's Tories of "raiding the public kitty" and blowing it on partisan ads.
This as Conservative cabinet ministers and MPs spend their break week fanning out across the country making announcements. About 65 are expected to be made by the end of Tuesday alone.
In a news conference punctuated by pointed accusations, Liberal House Leader David McGuinty told reporters Monday that by his rough estimates the government has spent $412-million in advertising since Stephen Harper came to office in 2006. That includes $500,000 on backdrops alone for announcements last year.
Mr. McGuinty noted that is "way more" – 2.5 times on average – than what Paul Martin's Liberal government spent on advertising in 2005 and 2006.
"What's interesting about this," Mr. McGuinty charged, "is while Mr. Harper says he doesn't want an election, he's already spent $10-million of partisan money in his party on attack ads. ... But he's also spent $412-million of our money on advertising"
The Conservative Party is running a slate of anti-Ignatieff ads, and also one or two playing up the Prime Minister, in heavy rotation on network television. In addition, these ads have also run during the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards, which are expensive slots.
Mr. McGuinty's $412-million figure is based in part on a recent report by The Canadian Press showing the Tory government has spent $26-million over three months this year on a massive television and radio ad buy to promote their Economic Action Plan.
A spokeswoman in the Prime Minister's Office said she doesn't know how the Liberals arrived at the specific figure. But Sara MacIntyre noted that Canadians "have a right to know what their government is doing and advertising is one way we communicate our government's priorities and programs. She mentioned, too, that the public awareness campaign around the H1N1 flu crisis last year called for "increased government communications."
Although Mr. McGuinty said there is some necessary outreach advertising by government, he considers this government's advertising program as partisan. "If you're running slogans with paid actors to tell everybody how good the country is going right now, c'mon, that's propaganda, that's not information," he charged. "That's trying to condition the Canadian people into believing all is right with the world and it's crossing a line."
The Liberal House Leader suggested "advertising commissioner" is needed in Ottawa to control the spending.
He also said the government will be making about 400 announcements – "recycling" and "re-gifting" programs that have already been announced – over the next five to seven days. And he complained that it costs "tens of thousands of dollars" to move ministers and MPs around to do so.
"[Mr. Harper] is using public dollars to enhance, in his mind, his chances in any forthcoming election when that takes place," Mr. McGuinty charged. "It's called cheating."
Ms. MacIntyre questioned Mr. McGuinty's figure. And she said that during a break week, MPs and ministers make announcements in their own ridings and in other nearby venues.