Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/7/2012 (1708 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA, Ont. -- A campaign event in Public Safety Minister Vic Toews' riding last year had all the trappings of a funding announcement, raising eyebrows among bureaucrats who thought such activities were on hold until votes were cast.
The long-standing practice in Canada has traditionally been for the incumbent government to put off any announcements until after the campaign is over,.
But Canada still does not have a modern, publicly accessible cabinet manual outlining what is or is not acceptable in the lead-up to an election and during the campaign.
Canadian constitutional experts say it's high time Prime Minister Stephen Harper draft one.
"The strong tradition in Canada has never been to make any spending announcements or to make any major appointments during an election campaign, that's been the unwritten rule forever," said David Zussman, director of the University of Ottawa's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and former wheel inside the Privy Council Office.
"But, since it's not written down, and it's not a policy, it's not a law, it's not a regulation, people are free basically to do what they feel is appropriate."
Toews' campaign stop during the 2011 election falls into something of a grey zone: Should announcements be made when it's clear the government is about to fall?
On March 22, 2011 -- one day after a committee found the government in contempt of Parliament and the same day NDP Leader Jack Layton said he would not support the federal budget -- Toews put out a press release outlining $160,000 in funding for programs in his riding under the New Horizons for Seniors Program (NHSP).
The government fell three days later after a non-confidence motion related to the contempt of Parliament finding.
A few days later, Toews appeared at a seniors centre in Whitemouth to sing the praises of the new funding. "These facilities are very important in small communities," Toews said during an event that included local politicians.
Inside the department, puzzled bureaucrats sent around copies of local news coverage to one another. The documents were released to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
"Can MPs make announcements during an election period if they do so without the department's support?"
A senior bureaucrat responded, "No announcements are supposed to be made... PCO (Privy Council Office) has been advised."
Julie Carmichael, a spokeswoman for Toews, emphasized the announcement occurred before the election was called.
"During the last election, Minister Toews highlighted the accomplishments of our government. In this case, it was a campaign stop at a seniors centre," said Carmichael.
"Clearly, those who attended liked what they heard. In Provencher, and all across Canada, our Conservative government received a mandate for a strong, stable, national majority Conservative government."
The 1968 Manual of Official Procedure of the Government of Canada includes a section describing cases of "restraint" on government business.
"In addition to defeat in Parliament or at the polls other situations may indicate that some measure of restraint might be desirable at least until the government's position is clarified," reads the document.
But the manual has not been updated in nearly a half-century. Peter Russell, one of Canada's leading constitutional experts, is another voice lobbying for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to draft a new manual.
"There's nothing to refer to, except people like me, and that's not satisfactory."
-- The Canadian Press