The cheques will take months, but the TV commercials are already on the air.
Those new monthly payouts for parents and income-splitting tax breaks won't get to anyone's pocket for months, but even before Stephen Harper announced it three weeks ago, his government planned the ad campaign. Why make an election-campaign promise without a campaign ad?
That's what these ads are. Anyone but the most dyed-in-the-wool partisan knows it. And in the new era of Canadian politics, where this country is effectively adopting the U.S.-style election year, they are an abuse of power.
The federal government's advertising campaigns, under both Liberal and Conservative governments, have been wasteful, and often flirted with the line between government and party-political advertising, or crossed it. Everybody knows it's not right, except the government that happens to be in power. Perhaps Canadians have become inured.
The Conservative government spent $617.6-million on advertising between 2006-07 and 2012-13, according to reports issued by the Public Works department. It allocated $57-million last year and $60-million so far this year from its central advertising fund, but the final tally for ads usually ends up much higher.
But now, these are increasingly election ads.
There has long been a rule that none of the advertising, except for critical subjects like public-health information, could be done during the official election campaign, usually five or six weeks.
That worked to a degree, though not perfectly, in different times. Parties didn't know precisely when the election would be, and they did less year-round campaigning. Governments worried that issuing a politicized ad campaign then calling an election might lead to a backlash. Not any more.
With fixed-date elections setting the vote for next October, we are already in an election campaign.
Is it a coincidence that the Government of Canada launched a $7.5-million ad campaign about the dangers of marijuana and abusing prescriptions, after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he's in favour of legalizing pot?
As it happens, the Conservative Party has run ads attacking Mr. Trudeau, so the government campaign, running from Oct. 20 to Dec. 28, reinforces it nicely. The country's doctors certainly thought the connection was too close, so the Canadian Medical Association and two other major groups refused to join the government ad campaign, fearing it had become a "political football."
Now there are commercials promoting the government's new measures for parents – the expansion of the Universal Child Care Benefit, and the creation of the so-called Family Tax Cut, which allows income-splitting so that single-income couples with kids will get a large tax break.
Finance Canada started working on the commercials in late September or early October, according to a Finance Canada spokesperson, Stephanie Rubec. That's weeks before Mr. Harper announced them. They're part of a $10-million campaign to promote budget measures authorized by the government in the first quarter of the current fiscal year.
Those ads are part of a $10-million campaign authorized by the government, according to a Finance Canada spokesperson, Stephanie Rubec.
These aren't ads that tell Canadians about action they need to take now. Your tax forms still aren't due until spring. The government says it can't get those new cheques out to parents of older kids until next summer. But it clearly wants people to think they are there now – and be happy about it. Any party that opposes such measures in the next election will be taking away breaks people have been hearing about all year.
And by the way, in case you forget, the Canada Revenue Agency will have another $7-million advertising campaign starting in February to encourage the "take-up" of new tax measures. Which tax breaks? A spokesperson for the Canada Revenue Agency, Philippe Brideau, said they don't know yet. But it would be surprising if these measures aren't among them.
There are worthwhile government ads. If they help people cope with a problem, or fund help, that's good. Most are primarily efforts to convince us the government is doing good. Some are obviously political. Apparently we can't trust governments to judge. Now that the election cycle has changed, it's time to bar them from all but critical advertising in the fourth year of their mandate. Otherwise, they can't resist the temptation.