Ontario's opposition parties cried foul Wednesday after the Liberal government distributed thousands of pamphlets encouraging people to vote for "fairness" when they cast ballots on Oct. 14, saying the handouts violate federal rules on election advertising.
The fold-out pamphlets —which read, "This election vote fairness for Ontario" and list the www.fairness.ca website supporting Premier Dalton McGuinty's battle to wrest more funds from Ottawa — were defended by the government.
The premier has been waging his so-called "fairness" campaign and urging the federal government to return to Ontario more of the roughly $20 billion that leaves the province each year in taxes.
"It struck me as quite odd that, despite the fact every single member of the legislature has endorsed [McGuinty's] fight for fairness, that he would actually engage in the federal election to this extent," said Conservative critic Lisa MacLeod.
She said she's concerned the pamphlets violate federal rules on election advertising, which requires groups to register as "third parties."
"They haven't done this … properly. They haven't been accountable to the legislature," said MacLeod.
The premier's office said the pamphlets don't fall under the definition of election advertising, noting that the fairness campaign doesn't promote or oppose any federal candidates or issues with which candidates are associated.
The pamphlets call for an end to "discriminating" against Ontario and a "fair funding arrangement," urging people to sign an online petition, ask candidates about their plans for "fairness" and display the fold-out poster.
About 6,000 pamphlets, at a cost of about $50,000, were being distributed on Wednesday in advance of the federal leaders' debates.
As well as handing the pamphlets out at subway and commuter train stops, members of the legislature were also to receive them to distribute to constituents.
Gilles Bisson of the NDP said even if the pamphlets didn't violate election rules, they were using public money for what he termed a "partisan" purpose.
"Part of what this government is trying to do is divert the attention of the problem away from the provincial government and the tools it has to respond, to blaming the federal government."
On Wednesday, McGuinty cited a TD Bank report that suggested $11.8 billion of the $20 billion sent to Ottawa represents the "number for fairness."
The three main provincial parties agreed earlier to pressure the federal government to cut the province a better deal.