Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre commissioned a team of public servants for overtime work on a Sunday to film him glad-handing constituents in promotion of the Conservative government's benefits for families.
The ensuing taxpayer-funded video – and other recent ones like it – are prompting concern that the Conservatives have taken a new step in the use of public funds to produce "vanity videos."
The Conservatives have faced criticism over the past year for the production of videos highlighting Prime Minister Stephen Harper's activities as part of an online show called 24 Seven. One of these videos landed Mr. Harper in trouble this month during a visit to Iraq when an episode showed the faces of Canadian Armed Forces members, potentially placing them at risk.
It now appears that Mr. Poilievre is taking a similar approach with his department's funds.
In a 2 1/2-minute video posted this month, Mr. Poilievre is shown approaching parents at a children's clothing consignment event at a local hockey arena in his southern Ottawa riding to hand out flyers.
"So the Prime Minister has increased the Universal Child Care benefit in July," Mr. Poilievre says at one point as he approaches a woman flipping through a rack of clothes. "Yeah, 100 per cent of families are eligible as long as your kids are under 18."
"Okay. That's good news," the woman replies.
"Yes, it's very good news," Mr. Poilievre replies.
The video ends with an image of the Government of Canada logo.
Another recent video features Mr. Poilievre in a blue shirt and blue tie, talking to the camera as digital images show how much money parents will receive from budget measures.
"I'm proud that our Prime Minister is making life more affordable and putting dollars directly in the pockets of Canadian families," he states in that video.
Officials with Mr. Poilievre's department, Employment and Social Development Canada, declined to say how much was spent to produce the consignment video, which was filmed on Sunday, April 26. However it did confirm three public servants were paid overtime to work that day on the video.
The department also confirmed that it has a five-person "creative production team," first launched in 2008, that is responsible for producing video and photography. The team has annual expenses of $50,000 in addition to salaries. The videos are posted on the department's YouTube channel and Mr. Poilievre promotes them via his Twitter account.
Liberal MP David McGuinty – who has proposed a bill that would ban the appearance of politicians in government ads and videos – said Mr. Poilievre's clips are a "shameless" use of public dollars.
"It's a Mini-Me 24 Seven," he said. "This is a minister of the Crown – not exactly in what you would call work clothing – hitting up people at a flea market, pushing pamphlets on them in front of a camera, measures that haven't even passed through the House of Commons. The whole thing is patently absurd."
Mr. McGuinty said Mr. Poilievre comes across like the "Trivago guy" in the second video, a reference to the commercials featuring an actor pointing to images of travel savings.
In a statement, Mr. Poilievre said the Liberals don't like the promotion of the government's family-benefit measures because they would take them away.
"In 2015, our government will make no apologies for using innovative ways to inform Canadians of the terrific enhanced benefits to which they are entitled," he said.
It appears that previous videos produced by the department largely focused on official events such as news conferences but it has recently started to create original material featuring Mr. Poilievre.
The department notes that Treasury Board policy on communications states that "institutions must maintain a capacity for innovation and stay current with developments in communications practice and technology."
Mr. McGuinty said employment deputy minister Ian Shugart and Janice Charette, the Clerk of the Privy Council, should have to explain why the public service is producing these types of videos.
The time and expense to produce the videos has not led to significant viewership. The videos were posted May 6 and May 8. Neither had more than 300 views as of Thursday.