Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

As I say, not as I do, once again from Harper

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IT'S a classic case of "do as I say, not as I do." Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government has been spending like a drunken sailor in order to get its politically driven message out, but at the same time it has been preaching the gospel of financial restraint and cost-cutting when it comes to programs considered important to ordinary folks.

Cuts to Canadian Coast Guard services, tightening of Employment Insurance eligibility rules, massive job losses in the federal public service -- if you listen to Harper and crew, they've all been tough-love decisions made in the name of necessary fiscal belt-tightening.

But now there's word the Harper government overspent budgets on advertising by a whopping 37 per cent over its first five years in office.

And according to figures compiled by The Canadian Press, the current economic action plan advertising blitz will cost taxpayers at least $16 million alone -- and it's just a part of more than $60 million the Tories plan to spend this year on advertising, telling taxpayers how the government is spending their money.

NDP finance critic Peggy Nash points out it's odd the government has seen fit to advertise its economic action plan when the program is already essentially complete.

"So we have to wonder why they're advertising now on a program that's already finished -- during a budget period that is based on austerity and cutting back programs and services for Canadians."

Indeed. It wasn't that long ago that the Tories were criticized over signage requirements tied to the national infrastructure spending program. No work was to get underway until signs giving credit to the Conservative government had been erected.

To be fair, all governments spend money on advertising to explain government policies, priorities and programs. But during tough economic times it's not unreasonable to expect our elected leaders to get their priorities straight.

Do Canadians really need to be told that the government is working hard on their behalf? Isn't that what they're elected for in the first place?

It's one thing to cut government spending. We all know there's lots of opportunity to find efficiencies. But it's quite another to squander huge chunks of the savings on expensive public-relations programs aimed at propping up the image of the federal government -- one that seems determined to spread its self-congratulatory message no matter what the price.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2012 A7

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