Federal Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre's office is refusing to explain why he wore a Conservative Party shirt on Monday when he hosted a government news conference trumpeting the delivery of $3-billion in child benefit payments to Canadians.
Mr. Poilievre replaced his habitual dress shirt and tie with a blue golf shirt featuring the Conservative Party logo for the Monday morning announcement in Halifax.
This partisanship during a government event arranged by Employment & Social Development Canada appears to contravene Ottawa's own communications rules, which say public servants must inform Canadians about programs and policies "in an accountable, non-partisan fashion."
Mr. Poilievre's office was reluctant to discuss the Conservative-branded golf shirt.
"I'm not going to comment on the minister's choice of what he wears," said Meagan Murdoch, director of communications for Mr. Poilievre.
The minister is a leading spokesman in a massive Conservative government public relations campaign to mark the increase in child-care benefit payments that started on July 20. The first of these new payouts is bigger than later ones will be because it includes a one-time additional amount to make the enrichment retroactive to the beginning of 2015.
This distribution of cash – what the government calls the biggest one-time, direct payment in Canadian history – comes as the unofficial federal election campaign slips into higher gear with opposition party leaders Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau already touring Canada.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper even produced a short Conservative Party YouTube video in which he tells Canadian parents to watch for the cash. "We know you make better choices for your family than governments ever will. … Keep an eye on your mailbox or bank accounts starting today."
Mr. Poilievre's office referred questions about the minister's partisan garb to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the federal agency that plays a leading role in the management and administration of government, including communications.
Treasury Board rules say that "[government] institutions must not participate in, or lend support to, partisan events organized for political party purposes."
A Treasury Board Secretariat spokeswoman in Ottawa said on Monday the agency would look into whether the minister broke any rules or laws. It did not respond by late Monday.
Mr. Poilievre has been zealously promoting the arrival of $3-billion in child-care benefit payments, calling it "Christmas in July for Moms and Dads."
Opposition parties say Mr. Poilievre crossed a line by displaying party symbols during a government event.
"Mr. Poilievre has to stop being a cheerleader for the Conservative Party and take his role as a minister seriously," NDP Treasury Board critic Mathieu Ravignat said.
Liberal MP Adam Vaughan said the minister must draw a more careful distinction between his party and the money Ottawa is handing out.
"It's not a private slush fund to promote party policy," he said, adding that government programs should not be tied to the party or leader that created them. "When the gas tax [revenue] gets handed out, there's not a picture of Paul Martin on the cheque that goes out to cities."
Mr. Mulcair says he would keep the enhanced child-care benefit and supplement it with a $15-a-day child-care subsidy. Mr. Trudeau says if he becomes prime minister, he will fold the child-care benefit into an income-based program for people with kids.
The Ethics Commissioner's Office said the use of partisan symbols does not contravene rules set up to prevent elected officials from using public office to further private interests. That is because a political party's interest is not considered a private within the meaning of the code or law.
"While it could be seen to be inappropriate, the wearing of the T-shirt to such an event would not contravene the Conflict of Interest Act or the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons," said spokeswoman Margot Booth of the Ethics Commissioner's Office.