One of the things that drove critics of Stephen Harper to distraction was his government's frequent habit of spending millions of taxpayer dollars on advertising that was little more than propaganda, touting its good and great works.
Two instances were particularly memorable for their brazenness. One was the $2.5-million the Harper government spent in 2013 on internet and TV ads to boast about a program, the Canada Jobs Grant, that didn't exist at the time.
The other came in 2015, when the same government spent $7.5-million to tout its pre-election budget, running ads during the NHL playoffs that were hard to distinguish from Conservative Party campaign material.
Others have done likewise, and been widely condemned for it. The current leader in the field is the Liberal government of Ontario, whose taxpayer-funded ads for itself are impossible to miss if you watch TV or browse the internet.
Using taxpayer dollars and government resources to create a favourable impression of a governing party is a high sin in a democracy. Self-promotion should be left to the parties themselves, at their own expense.
Which is why it is galling that the government of Justin Trudeau has now committed the same sin, after vowing to set a better tone in Ottawa.
Mr. Trudeau's government unveiled what it called its "mandate letter tracker" this month. Using a government web page, the tracker purports to tally the progress of all the mandates the Prime Minister assigned to his ministers – a total of 322, not including an additional 42 that came about as a result of a cabinet shuffle in October.
It's a misleading exercise. The ministers' mandates are almost entirely Liberal election-platform promises, which means the government is grading itself on terms set by the party.
Canadians will not be surprised to learn that the vast majority of the Liberal Party's election promises – 285 out of 322 – have either been "completed" or are "underway on track."
That is the opinion of the Liberal government, anyway. The election promise to "reform Question Period so that all members, including the Prime Minister, are held to greater account" is graded as "completed fully met" – a conclusion only the most fervid Liberal partisan could reach.
The Trudeau government defends the mandate tracker the same way Mr. Harper defended his government's advertisements – as a way to keep Canadians informed. No one fell for it then, and no one should now.
Mr. Trudeau says the mandate tracker is designed to show Canadians "exactly how we're doing." It does that, but not in the way he hopes.