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A staffer sports a Conservative party logo on his head before the start of a rally for Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (not pictured) in Kitchener, Ontario October 10, 2008. Canadians will head to the polls in a federal election on October 14. REUTERS/Chris Wattie (CANADA)CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

Sarcasm can be a potent rhetorical tool, and on April 19, 2004, then-Official Opposition Leader Stephen Harper rose in the House of Commons to wield it.

Condemning a Liberal government ad campaign that was reportedly going to cost $120-million as partisan pork, he acerbically noted, "This advertising, this information just happens to be the same as the government's own election platform."

Mr. Harper's criticism was direct, principled – an election would be called a few weeks later – and spot-on. It was also quickly forgotten once he rose to power 20 months later.

Ever since, the Harper government has indulged its unfortunate habit of using federal dollars for partisan ends – from ads touting a post-recession economic plan that continued to air years into the recovery, to the attack ads aimed at the country's biggest telecommunications companies.

Even by those low standards, a just-launched series of ads trumpeting a child-care tax credit regime that has yet to be approved by Parliament – incidentally, a practice Mr. Harper threw in the Liberals' faces in Question Period in November, 2002 – is an egregious misallocation of public funds.

The ads, which trumpet a proposal that will almost certainly form the basis of the Conservative platform in the 2015 election campaign, are transparently partisan.

It would be one thing if this were a new phenomenon, or at least a rare one. It is not. The opposition parties claim $600-million in public money has been splashed out on partisan ads over the past decade. The accuracy of that figure is open to debate; the principle at stake is not: A government must not be allowed to use public money to fund promotional ads for itself. Ever.

In opposition, the future prime minister complained incessantly about a "culture of secrecy" relating to advertising and sponsorship contracts under the Chrétien and Martin Liberals. Today, his government is perpetuating it by cynically refusing to attach a dollar figure to the latest ad buy.

If the Conservative Party wants to advertise its election platform, let it foot the bill. These ads should be pulled. And then Parliament should imitate Ontario and ban the use of public funds for partisan purposes. Stephen Harper, circa 2004, would surely agree.

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