Pierre Poilievre rejects criticism over taxpayer-funded 'vanity videos'

Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre is drawing fire for using taxpayer dollars to produce videos of himself promoting the government's proposed enhancements to the universal child-care benefit, but says he has no reason to apologize.

Video shows minister talking to parents about enhanced child-care benefit

'I make no apologies for informing parents of the expanded universal child-care benefit,' says Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre is drawing fire for using taxpayer dollars to produce videos of himself promoting the government's proposed enhancements to the universal child-care benefit, but says he has no reason to apologize.

During Friday's question period in the House of Commons, NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie accused Poilievre of "shamelessly using public resources for vanity videos," demanding he say how much he spent to produce "these partisan self-promotional videos." 

Liberal MP David McGuinty also piled on, asking when the Conservatives would stop "bilking taxpayers for partisan self-promotion."

But Poilievre shot back, saying that the NDP and Liberals just want to keep parents in the dark about the government's proposals because those parties, he said, want to take those child-care benefits away.

"I make no apologies for informing parents of the expanded universal child-care benefit," he said.

One of the videos shows Poilievre on Parliament Hill discussing how parents will benefit from proposed enhancement to the child-care benefit. 

In another video, Poilievre is shown going up to parents at a clothing sale in an Ottawa arena, also talking about the child-care benefit.

Pierre Nolet, a spokesman for Employment and Social Development, said in a statement to CBC News that the Ottawa arena video was produced in house and filmed on April 26, a Sunday, which involved two hours of overtime.

"Compensation for overtime is covered under the collective bargaining agreement," Nolet said. 

Christine van Geyn, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said defining the difference between government and partisan messaging can be subjective. But the government should only be using tax resources to provide information to Canadians and not to self-promote, she said.

"The reason for government advertising is to inform the public of something — to inform the public you can invest in your RRSP at this time, to inform the public that the tax deadline is this day," she said.

'Pure partisanship'

"Even with Poilievre on the child-care benefit, it's useful to inform the public that you're entitled to claim a child-care benefit. But to walk around your riding talking to your constituents, glad-handing with people? That ad to me is pure partisanship."

Instead, van Geyn said, she favours a third party review system, much like what's currently used in Ontario, where the auditor general has the power to disapprove ads determined to be partisan under a set of criteria.

In 2013, McGuinty introduced a private member's bill to appoint a federal advertising commissioner who would work within the Office of the Auditor General to review all proposed government advertising for potentially partisan content.

However, Alex Marland, an associate professor of political science, said he doesn't agree a review committee would necessarily be the best solution. 

"This needs to be more public than just a review committee," said Marland, who is writing a book about branding in Canadian government and politics. "Who appoints the members of the review committee? What we need is very clearly identified criteria that anybody can look at. You should be able to pick something up and say, 'Here's the policy, does it fit this or not?' I'm just not sure why a review committee needs to interpret that."

"I think if we had a public list we could all be scrutinizing these things," he said. 

With files from Kady O'Malley