It's "offensive" and "misleading" for the Ontario government to promise to donate a portion of the sale price from new "Support our Troops" licence plates to help military families and then give only a tiny fraction to charity, opposition critics charged on Thursday.
The province unveiled the yellow ribbon plates to honour Canadian troops on Remembrance Day, billing them as "a fitting tribute to the heroism of those who served in our armed forces."
However, the opposition parties were surprised to learn only $2.25 from each set of plates costing $77.75 will go to the Canadian Forces Personnel Assistance Fund, which provides financial help to current and former members of the military and their immediate families.
"It's misleading at best to have people making a purchase of that nature thinking it's going to help the military and their families when indeed it's helping to fill the government's coffers," said Progressive Conservative critic Bob Runciman.
An even smaller percentage of the proceeds from personalized plates with the yellow ribbons will go to the fund, only $4.50 from a $314 set.
"Certainly on the surface it sounds like an offensive gimmick," Mr. Runciman added.
"You're playing on people's affection for the military and their families and using it as a revenue source for government coffers."
The New Democrats too said they expected the province would have been a lot more generous in giving military families a slice of the sales from the new licence plates, and questioned the government's motive in making the announcement on Remembrance Day.
"When you read that it's going to go support the troops, I think you have people saying 'well, yeah, I want to do that,' but marketing off of them just looks bad," NDP critic Peter Tabuns said.
"I think most people would be as surprised as I was at how little goes to the organization that's supporting the soldiers' families."
Government Services Minister Harinder Takhar defended the new Yellow Ribbon program, and said the licence plates are about honouring the troops and raising awareness, not about fundraising.
"I don't know why the fundraising issue has taken over the recognition issue and the awareness issue that we are going to create," Mr. Takhar said in an interview.
"It's very unfortunate that a very good idea is now being criticized."
Mr. Runciman said the government had very carefully chosen Remembrance Day to announce the new "Support our Troops" plates, a time when Canadians are feeling very strong emotions about the role the military plays.
"They're playing on the strong feelings surrounding Armistice Day, especially when we're engaged in war in Afghanistan and Canadians are paying much more attention to military past and present," Mr. Runciman said.
"If that's really what's happening here, most people have to be quite upset about government engaging in this kind of activity."
The Canadian Armed Forces applied to the province's graphic licence program, which was set up in 1994 to help raise awareness for various charities and organizations, he added.
If charities want to use graphic plates as a fundraising opportunity, they are allowed to set their own price for any plates they would like to resell.
Ontario already has veterans' licence plates adorned with a poppy, which are free and only available to veterans and their spouses.
"That veteran's plate is one of the most sought after plates right now," Mr. Takhar said.