Canadians checking the local weather on the federal government's website may have to squint to see the Environment Canada logo, but they'll get an eyeful of the Conservative "economic action plan."
The government says that the site — weather.gc.ca — has been given "a fresh new look."
The makeover includes removing from the top of the page the name and familiar logo of the federal department that provides the meteorological information on cities and towns across the country.
Except for the interactive main page with its multiple maps, in which "Environment Canada" is embedded in fine print above Iqaluit on the map of Canada, the logo has all but disappeared from the site.
What does appear prominently is a trio of brightly coloured links that promote last month's federal budget, the generic "economic action plan" website, and the Canada Revenue Agency's slogan: Tax Savings Working For You.
Green party Leader Elizabeth May claims the Conservatives are engaged in what she calls an Orwellian exercise that does not bode well for the future of the federal environment department.
But a spokeswoman at Environment Canada says the makeover simply follows new Treasury Board guidelines designed to make web applications more user friendly.
Funding for weather service cut, then increased
The government did not explain why weather searchers might require links to the "economic action plan," which has been the subject of more than $100 million worth of advertising since the Conservative branding was first used for the 2009 stimulus budget.
May says Canadians who simply want to check the weather are being bombarded with taxpayer-funded Conservative propaganda.
"Is there no end to Conservative gall when it comes to promoting themselves with taxpayers' money?" May asked in a release Wednesday.
"I think this is a clear indication of this government's diminishing role of Environment Canada," said Liberal environment critic Kirsty Duncan. "There's information relevant to [Canadians'] livelihoods there. Why is it being used for partisan ads?"
"I think it's ridiculous," Duncan said, adding that other information about climate change on the Environment Canada website is disappearing.
Environment Minister Peter Kent said that the website's changes were part of a "Treasury Board initiative."
"It's a great new website. It's much more user-friendly than the site in the past," the minister said.
Kent said he thought the ads were appropriate, adding that they are on "all of our departmental websites."
The 2013 federal budget, which the Harper government usually refers to as the "Economic Action Plan 2013," provided $248 million over five years to improve Environment Canada's weather forecasting through new investments in radar technology and climate monitoring stations.
Meteorologists with Environment Canada were among the job losses the department faced in 2011 during earlier rounds of federal budget cutbacks.
The federal government is in the process of overhauling many Government of Canada websites, in an effort to reduce the total number of sites it maintains and improve the "effectiveness and efficiency" of its web publishing. The government says it needs the redesign to improve its communications on social media and mobile applications.
Visitors to a variety of government websites in recent months have reported being unable to find archives or portals previously available.