The Minister for Employment and Social Development, who makes no apologies for taxpayer-funded videos in which he extolls the Conservative government's benefits for families, is not the only YouTube star in the Harper cabinet. Two other ministers within the same department have videos of their own.
With an election just five months away, the opposition parties say the Conservatives are using government resources to create propaganda that should be paid for by their political party. But minister Pierre Poilievre retorts that the Liberals and the New Democrats are simply trying to stop the government from spreading a positive message.
Officials within the Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) say the videos are the product of an innovative team of communications bureaucrats, established in 2008, that is constantly looking for new ways to reach out to Canadians. The department has a full-fledged production studio, and the cabinet members who fall under the rubric of Social Development have made use of it. Like the videos of Mr. Poilievre, footage of them elaborating on the ways the government is helping Canadians can be seen on YouTube where the department has its own page of uploads.
Alice Wong, the Minister of State for Seniors, spends a minute and a half talking about a panel for caregivers that she established in June of last year to find ways to help workers who must care for family members in their off hours.
And Candice Bergen, the Minister of State for Social Development, starred in a video called Helping Families Prosper. Using stick figures on a white board, Ms. Bergen runs through a number of Conservative proposals that were part of the most recent budget, which has yet to be passed into law, including income sharing and increases to the child-care expense deduction, the child fitness credit, the child-care benefit.
That video, which was posted on YouTube last December, runs for more than five minutes. "Strong families make a strong country," Ms. Bergen says. "And our goal as a government is to make sure that Canada is the best country in the world to raise a family."
It has proved to be a popular clip among Conservative MPs, and some have posted it to their own websites.
The videos of Mr. Poilievre show him glad-handing constituents in promotion of the Conservative government's benefits for families, talking to the camera as digital images show how much money parents will receive from budget measures, and strolling through an Ottawa daycare to tout increases the government is proposing to the child-care benefit.
The department of Employment and Social Development will not say how much any of the videos cost to make – though it confirms that Mr. Poilievre commissioned public servants to work overtime on a Sunday to create a video in which he talks to parents at a children's clothing consignment event at a hockey arena.
"I am proud to work seven days a week to inform 100 per cent of families that they are entitled to an increased universal child care benefit," Mr. Poilievre said Friday during the daily Question Period in the House of Commons, as one opposition MP after another rose to lambaste what they labelled "vanity videos."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also has also been criticized for an online video show produced within his office called 24 Seven, which provides weekly roundups of Mr. Harper's travels as well as "exclusive" interviews with cabinet ministers and others promoting government policies.
Spokesmen for the Social Development department pointed out by e-mail that, according to government policy, all means of communication – from traditional methods to new technologies – must be used to reach Canadians. And because ministers are the principal spokespersons of the government, it is their role to explain government policies.
"On this side of the House, we are going to deliver increased benefits to Canadian families and, yes, we will work hard, seven days a week, to ensure families know about these increased benefits," Mr. Poilievre said.
But the opposition is still crying foul. "When the Employment Minister uses taxpayer money for self-promotion videos to get re-elected and then has the gall to say that he is merely informing Canadians about government policy, it is like a slap in the face of all Canadians who expect accountability," Liberal MP Marc Garneau told the House of Commons. "Either that, or he thinks we are stupid, or possibly that we do not care. We do care."