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International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino in his office on Parliament Hill, Dec. 3, 2012. Fantino’s office is scrambling to explain why two strongly partisan attacks against opposition parties were posted on the federal government’s website in recent days.

Fred Chartrand/The Globe and Mail

International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino's office is scrambling to explain why two strongly partisan attacks against opposition parties were posted on the federal government's website in recent days – a move the ruling Conservatives are blaming on CIDA bureaucrats.

In recent weeks, the Canadian International Development Agency provided space on its website for two statements, signed by Mr. Fantino, that disparaged and belittled the NDP and Liberals. The attacks are letters-to-the editor that the minister wrote to rebut comments by opposition critics and that his office originally sent to publications.

The statements, which were posted on Jan. 12, verge on political vitriol at times.

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"Development is not about dependency; it is about helping those in need get a leg up so they can prosper. This is a concept that the tax-and-spend NDP fundamentally do not understand," Mr. Fantino writes in one titled "Dear NDP: CIDA Does Not Need Your Economic Advice."

"While the NDP would prefer to fund endless talk shops, I am committed to ensuring our development assistance is accountable, transparent and results-focused."

Another screed, titled "Liberals make promises, Conservatives get results," said the former governing party failed when it came to international development.

"They are clearly befuddled as to how to contribute to effective development for those most in need around the world," Mr. Fantino wrote. "[Liberal MP John] McKay makes an inconsistent and incoherent argument centred on myths; which is ironic but not unexpected given his party's track record."

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said the postings cross a line. "Either Minister Fantino doesn't know or doesn't care about following the rules for ministers."

"He is clearly breaking Treasury Board guidelines and is abusing government resources. Why is he using taxpayer dollars to pay for an immature and partisan attack on the NDP?"

Officials speaking for Mr. Fantino insist the Tories did not ask CIDA bureaucrats to publish the letters on the website. They said they'd merely asked public servants to post more speeches and statements by Mr. Fantino, and the bureaucrats went too far.

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The Conservatives acknowledged that using the government website to display these letters was a mistake and said that public servants have been instructed to remove them.

"CIDA was asked to add appropriate web content and these were posted in error," said Daniel B. Richardson, press secretary for Mr. Fantino. "CIDA has been asked to remove them immediately."

Neither the NDP nor the Liberals found that explanation credible.

Mr. McKay said it's hard to imagine that some public servant didn't have qualms about posting these missives. The Conservative excuse "beggars belief," he said.

"There might be some naive fool who believes that. I don't know who it is," Mr. McKay said.

The NDP's Mr. Angus said the Tories shouldn't shift the blame to the public service.

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"The minister should take responsibility instead of throwing another bureaucrat under the bus," Mr. Angus said.

The two statements were removed from CIDA's website early on Tuesday evening.

The federal government's communication policy says public servants can't deliver partisan messages to Canadians.

They are supposed to inform "the public about policies, programs, services and initiatives in an accountable, non-partisan fashion."

Government institutions, meanwhile, "must not use public funds to purchase advertising in support of a political party," the federal communication policy says.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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