The Harper government has boosted funding for the controversial advertising campaign used to flog its economic stimulus plan, including a big push during the Vancouver Olympics.
The government has increased its spending on the promotion of the January, 2009, Economic Action Plan by $5-million - on top of the initial allotment of $34-million - for a 15-per-cent increase.
Still, one of the government's biggest advertisers is refusing to provide information on the cost of its media buy during the Olympics, a ratings winner across the country.
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada launched a new ad on Jan. 18 to promote "key government programs available to Canadians who have been affected by the economic downturn." The message ran heavily during the Winter Games, but the department won't say how much was spent to air it.
"We have provided you with all the information available at this point," the department's media relations office declared in a statement. "Once the campaign has finished, we can provide you with the final costs."
The Department of Finance offered more information on its current advertising push, saying it used its additional allotment to re-air last year's ads from October until the start of the Olympics in mid-February.
The remaining money will be used after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivers his budget Thursday as part of "post-budget advertising," the department said.
The opposition has decried the government's heavy advertising push, including the use on the Internet of pictures of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and government officials announcing projects.
The recent $5-million advertising boost is a "partisan" use of taxpayers' funds, said Liberal MP and finance critic John McCallum, who added the commercials lack a public-interest message.
"The ads are subliminally praising the government for its great wisdom in rescuing all Canadians from any kind of difficulty," Mr. McCallum said. "I can't tell the difference between those ads and the Conservative Party ads."
But the Harper government defended its actions, saying it has to provide information on its various economic programs.
"The goal of the advertising is to ensure that Canadians benefit from the measures in the EAP, which is delivering more than $60-billion in economic stimulus over two years to protect Canadians and our economy against the effects of the global financial crisis," said Finance spokesman Jack Aubry. "It is important that all Canadians in all regions know the facts about the Action Plan so they can benefit from the EAP on a timely basis."
HRSDC said its latest ad was designed to "support" the EAP by offering information on extended employment insurance benefits, retraining opportunities and apprenticeship grants.