Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre's Monday morning press conference about the universal child-care benefit may have broken rules designed to keep government and partisan business separate, the second time he has been accused of blurring the line between the two in the past three months.
Poilievre launched a day of ministerial press conferences Monday to remind Canadian parents they're getting money back from the government — albeit money that will be taxed next spring.
- Pierre Poilievre's hunt to hand out $3B in child care cheques
- Pierre Poilievre rejects criticism over taxpayer-funded 'vanity videos'
But he raised questions about the appropriateness of his clothing choice when he sported the Conservative Party short-sleeved shirt to a Canadian government event.
Canada has strict rules about using partisan logos at government events to prevent a governing party from using taxpayer money to promote itself.
Civil servants are instructed to inform the public about policies and programs "in an accountable, non-partisan fashion," according to rules set out by the Treasury Board, which sets rules for Canada's federal bureaucracy.
"[Government] Institutions must not participate in, or lend support to, partisan events organized for political party purposes," according to the rules.
Poilievre's spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment, nor did the department.
The press release regarding Poilievre's event, which outlined a series of other MPs promoting the benefit, was produced by the federal government and not the Conservative Party.
The universal child tax benefit, or UCCB, is a taxable benefit first put in place in 2006 and increased for 2015. But $3 billion in lump-sum payments were delivered to Canadians Monday because the increase was included in last spring's federal budget, which couldn't be put in place before Parliament voted to approve it.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair on Monday repeated his promise to continue the UCCB but augment it with one million child-care spaces, which the NDP say they would provide to parents for $15 a day. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says he would cancel the UCCB and replace it with a tax-free benefit that's worth more to families making less than $150,000 a year. The Liberals say they would pay for the plan by ending benefits for families making more than $200,000 a year.
Monday isn't the first time Poilievre has been criticized for using government resources for partisan ends.
Last May, the Globe and Mail reported Poilievre used public servants from his department to shoot video of him meeting constituents, which was subsequently used in a partisan video.
Despite criticism in question period over the taxpayer-funded overtime, Poilievre was unrepentant.
"I make no apologies for informing parents of the expanded universal child-care benefit," he said at the time."
'Blurs the clear line'
NDP Treasury Board critic Mathieu Ravignat, a former federal public servant, called the T-shirt inappropriate, and said there's a time to be a minister and a time to be a cheerleader for one's party.
"This blurs the clear line between ... [the] partisan nature of an event and the public service, and its need to be objective," Ravignat said.
Liberal MP Adam Vaughan said it's a clear violation of the rules.
"Are they going to have a Conservative logo on the tax bill you get sent when they claw this benefit back? My guess is no," he said.
Poilievre drew a number of snarky tweets Sunday when he referred to the day the money would arrive as "Christmas in July."
Many people had questions about the tax implications or pointed out that the benefit is taxable.
Others pointed out it's directed at people with children, so those without or with children 18 and over get nothing.
Attention Moms & Dads: Tweet/Facebook me & @PMHarper when your child care money arrives to let us know you got it!— @KellieLeitch
Moms & Dads: Today you should get your increased UCCB payments, please post to twitter and facebook so @PMHarper will know you received it!— @BlakeRichardsMP
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also tweeted about the universal child-care benefit, but the responses may have been more negative than he would have liked.
In 2010, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson wrote that steps should be taken to address the use of partisan logos at government news conferences. Dawson looked at the Conservatives' use of giant novelty cheques at funding announcements and found that "using partisan identifiers in announcing government initiatives goes too far."
On Monday, a spokeswoman for Dawson said there are no conflict of interest rules to prevent an MP from wearing partisan logos to hand out taxpayer money.
"While it could be seen to be inappropriate, the wearing of the T-shirt to such an event would not contravene the Conflict of Interest Act or the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons," Margot Booth wrote in an email to CBC News.