The Commons: The age of austerity, as not seen on TV

In light of spending cuts, perhaps a new advertising campaign is in order

Conservative MP Robert Goguen had apparently been up late last night, carefully reviewing the main estimates and he was keen this afternoon to rise shortly before Question Period and report back to the House with what he’d found. “Yesterday, in main estimates, there were significant reductions in the cost of prisons due to the influx of new prisoners not materializing,” the government backbencher celebrated, dismissing opposition concerns about prison spending in the process.

Mr. Goguen was being modest. At last report there were actually more individuals in prison than ever before. Which would seem to render those “significant reductions” all the more impressive. (Although the increasing violence in prisons might make it more difficult to feel good about frugality.)

This good news might’ve ruled the day were it not for those on the opposition side who’d also taken some time to review the estimates themselves. They were decidedly less enthused than Mr. Goguen.

“Mr. Speaker, at the same time that we continue to read in the estimates with respect to the cuts that are being made in front line programs, in foreign aid programs, in foreign affairs budgets, we now see that the CIC is increasing its advertising budget by $4 million, the Department of Finance is increasing its advertising budget by nearly $7 million, and the Department of Natural Resources is increasing its advertising budget by $4.5 million compared to the main estimates of last year,” interim Liberal leader Bob Rae reported, reading from a white piece of paper.

Now Mr. Rae wagged his finger in the Prime Minister’s general direction. “I would like to ask the Prime Minister how he can justify again this double standard where front line services are being cut but propaganda is being increased?”

Oddly, Mr. Harper begged to differ almost entirely. “Mr. Speaker,” the Prime Minister corrected, “those front line services are not being cut.”

Those who enjoy the water around Kitsilano Beach might quibble with Mr. Harper’s understanding of what constitutes a front line service.

“What is being done is ensuring that the people of Canada are aware of the programs and services that are available to them,” the Prime Minister continued. “This Parliament votes billions of dollars every year of taxpayers’ money for the benefit of the people of Canada. It is up to us to ensure they are aware of the services and the programs that they can use to better their own lives.”

Those television ads that filled nearly every break in the Oscars on Sunday are not indicative of a government that desires to promote itself to you with your own money, you’ll understand. Those sunny clips were testament to a government that deeply feels its responsibility to be accountable to you, even if that means using your money to do so.

But not too deeply, mind you.

“I would indicate to the honourable member that only 0.03% of government spending is used for advertising and communication of all sorts,” Tony Clement later advised the House, attempting to dismiss the complaints of Liberal MP Scott Brison. “Last year, our advertising budget was $83.3 million, which is well below the last full year under the former Liberal government of $111 million.”

So the Harper government prizes public accountability. But not quite as much as the previous Liberal government did.

Peggy Nash wanted to talk about cuts to VIA Rail, infrastructure funding and the Canada Revenue Agency. Jim Flaherty stood and observed that these were budgetary matters and that the budget was being prepared and that at some point he’d tell the House when the budget would be presented.

Hélène Laverdière wished to hear an explanation for cuts in foreign aid and development. John Baird stood and enthused about “Canadian leadership.” Which apparently will continue to exist, it’ll just be cheaper to exercise. Perhaps, taking a lesson from the reforms to employment insurance, foreign aid will be replaced with e-cards.

Entirely unmentioned were any savings derived from consolidating the government’s computer systems.

Later on in the afternoon, Liberal MP Sean Casey stood in his spot along the opposition back row and castigated. “Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago the Royal Canadian Legion launched a public campaign calling on the Conservatives to increase funding to the Last Post Fund. Yesterday, the Royal Canadian Legion got its answer. It is buried at page 382 of the estimates. It shows that the Last Post Fund will be cut next year by $1.4 million. At the same time, the Conservatives will increase their advertising spend by 10 times that amount,” he reported. “Why have the Conservatives put self-promotion ahead of a dignified burial for our veterans?”

This question was rather crushing, but the Veterans Affairs Minister was apparently unruffled. “Mr. Speaker, I can assure the House we will not cut like the Liberals did,” Steven Blaney offered.

He was heckled with shouts of “worse!” from the Liberal corner.

“Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Blaney continued after the Speaker had intervened, “that the Liberals cut the Last Post Fund program and we are maintaining this funding while finding administrative savings for the 10,000 veterans who are benefiting and have benefited from this program. This program, actually, is maintained and fully funded.”

So funded less, but funded fully, but still not funded sufficiently so far as the Royal Canadian Legion is concerned.

Next was Liberal MP John McKay, who attempted to mock Defence Minister Peter MacKay by way of reports that the defence budget is set to be reduced by $4.9 billion. The minister was typically undaunted.

“Mr. Speaker, let me inject a little reality into the House,” he graciously offered. “In fact, the Conservative government has seen increases of roughly 34% in the defence budget since 2005-06. Let us roll the clock back when this member was part of the government that presided over a decade of darkness, that saw the Canadian Forces rusted out. Whether we have increased funding for procurement, for infrastructure, for salaries, for programs for soldiers, this member and this party have a sad, sorry record of not supporting the Canadian Forces.”

So there. And, indeed, for the sake of accountability, the Harper government should proceed with a new advertising campaign to clarify and celebrate all of these ways in which money is being saved and expenditures are being reduced. No more being bashful about this stuff. “Responsible Resource Development” is so 2012. “Not Not Supporting the Troops As Much As The Liberals Did” is the message for 2013.

The Commons: The age of austerity, as not seen on TV

  1. all media outlets should be posting the canadian debt clock(606 billion) on there newspapers websites each day just to let the taxpayers see how fast this goverment spends there money.the most expensive goverment(harper,not his minions) in canadian history.

    • Your spelling and grammar are impressive.

  2. Last year, our advertising budget was $83.3 million, which is well below the last full year under the former Liberal government of $111 million.”

    Note that Clement is pointing here to what the Conservatives BUDGETED for advertising last year, not what they SPENT. The Tories have gone over their advertising budget every single year they’ve been in power. In 2009/2010, the Tories budgeted for $85.3 million in advertising. They SPENT $136.3 million that year.

  3. According to the Globe and Mail, when Clement cites the spending in the “last full year under the former Liberal government of $111 million“, he’s referring, oddly, to 2002/03.

    From the article, back when the Tories were trying to spin this disingenuous line back in October:

    [Michael] Bolkenius, speaking for the minister, said in his email that: “It is also important to note that the advertising expenses for 2010-2011 were well below the last full recorded year under the former Liberal government.”

    In 2005-06 — a fiscal year truncated by the federal election that brought the Conservatives to power in January 2006 — Ottawa spent $41.3 million on advertising, although cabinet had approved spending of $70.4 million.

    The last full year of Liberal rule, 2004-05, the government spent $49.5 million on ads, well below the cabinet-approved budget of $58.5 million.

    And in 2003-04, the Liberal government spent $69.8 million on advertising.

    Ambrose’s spokesman, when asked to clarify what he considered the “last full year” under the Liberals, cited 2002-03.

    That year, the government spent $111 million on advertising.

    So, I guess maybe Tony has a point. And all you have to do to see it is ignore the fact that the Tories have overspent their advertising budget every single year that they’ve been in office (including going over budget by $51 million one year), and pretend that Paul Martin was never Prime Minister of Canada.

    • Whatever the Liberals spent $111M on it sure wasn’t self-promoting bullsh*t like these ubiquitous “Economic Action Plan” ads. These ads tell Canadians of how the Harper Government is hard at work bringing Canadians non-existent “jobs, growth and prosperity” with benefits that were either in place before they came along (student loans) or scaled back since (worker training) and stimulus spending (the opposition forced on them) that ran out in 2010.

      Disgusting slimy con men.

      • No, it’s was mostly self-promoting B.S. when the Liberals did it too. The point is they’d gotten it under control a bit under Martin, which is why the Tories are making their comparisons to Chretien-era ad spending, and comparing what Tories have BUDGETED to spend to what the Liberals actually spent at their height (because the Tories have learned from experience that they couldn’t stay within their ad budget to save their lives).

        • What self-promoting ad campaigns did the Liberals run? There were sponsorship ads trying to sell Quebecers on Canada. In 2003 there was the SARS outbreak which required a lot of government ads. I never seen anything like these “Economic Action Plan” ads, however. Nothing comes remotely close.

          • Two clarifications:
            “There were sponsorship ads trying to sell Quebecers on Canada.”
            No there wasn’t, there was money spent, but there were no ads. Remember? Scandal?

            “In 2003 there was the SARS outbreak which required a lot of government ads.”
            SARS occurred in 2003/2004 fiscal – this would not impact 2002/2003 fiscal spending, which is the $111 million number quoted.

          • There were no ads in Quebec? None?

            What’s your source for that?

          • Sorry both, oversimplifcation on my part. Yes, there were some ads, fully agree. I think I was just a bit taken aback to see Quebec sponsorship cited as a defence of Liberal ad spending. :)

          • You’re wrong on the first clarification.

            There was, certainly, money that was spent for no advertising/sponsorship work, but there was also money spent on actual advertising/sponsorship work. There most certainly were ads and sponsorships designed to encourage Quebeckers to feel good about Canada. Just not as many as the government paid for.

          • There were ads. Sheila Frasier reported that up to $100M of the $250M was spent on Liberal-friendly firms for little or no work. The Gomery Commission concluded “that $2 million was awarded in contracts without a proper bidding process, $250,000 was added to one contract price for no additional work, and $1.5 million was awarded for work that was never done, of which $1 million had to be repaid.”

            In any case, the Liberals were promoting Canada, they weren’t defrauding taxpayers of tens of millions a year for free campaign advertising and electioneering.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sponsorship_scandal

          • I’m really not sure that “the Liberals were promoting Canada” is an argument worth making about adscam at this point.

          • It’s always an argument worth making, if you’re a Liberal. Because in the Liberal imagination, Liberals never do anything wrong.

          • Yeah, well I wouldn’t be reminding people that the Tories used to call upon us all to “Demand Better” if I were you either. That line turned in to “Why is everyone always demanding that we do things differently than the Liberals used to?” in the time it took Stephen Harper to walk across from one side of the House to the other.

          • You’re kidding, right?

          • In other words, you can’t come up with a single ad campaign the Liberals ran that was even remotely close to these sleazy Economic Action Plan ads. I, for one, have a good memory and I’ve never seen such a flagrant abuse of government advertising in my life. These ads promote the Con campaign slogan “jobs, growth and prosperity” which means they are defrauding taxpayers for $60M/yr in campaign spending. The Chretien-Martin Liberals did not do this. The Mulroney Conservatives did not do this. Those are the facts.

          • The fact that you can’t remember all of the ads from back in the Liberals’ time in power referencing all of the awesome things they were doing and ending with “Brought to you by the Government of Canada” is surprising, but it’s not evidence that they didn’t exist.

            It’s true, however, that finding references to those ads online isn’t easy. That’s because any search including the words liberal, and ad or advertisement, and spending or funding is overwhelmed by the hundreds of articles about all of the taxpayer money the Liberals spent from their advertising budgets on advertising work that was NEVER DONE.

            I’ll give you the fact that analyzing the relative partisanship of Government of Canada ads run by the Tories, versus Government of Canada ads run by the Liberals is a highly subjective exercise. Hell, I’ll even stipulate, for the sake of argument, that the Tory ads are 1000 times as bad as the Liberal ones ever were. I’d still drop your “Chretien-Martin didn’t do this” line of argument. Chretien-Martin arguably couldn’t AFFORD to spend millions of dollars from their advertising budget getting ad firms to make partisan ads. They were too busy spending millions of dollars from their advertising budget getting ad firms to do NOTHING.

  4. Reading this exchange makes my head hurt….

    So the Tories like cuts to prison spending. But they liked increases to prison spending last year.

    They don’t like cuts to defence spending. That notwithstanding, they’re cutting defence spending.

    They like increases to advertising spending, unless they’re Liberal increases in advertising spending.

    They’re in favour of maintaining funding for the Last Post Fund. But they’re cutting it.

    Can someone spell out for me, what is the underlying theme that unifies all these positions together???

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