Government House Leader Peter Van Loan (York-Simcoe, Ont.) tabled a government list of how many times the “Harper Government” label has been used in news releases from the public service, an otherwise neutral institution that remains strictly non-partisan, in the House of Commons on Monday.
The list shows 29 federal departments and agencies have posted or issued 522 news releases identifying the public service with Prime Minister Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) since last Dec. 11, 2012, including the Finance Department, Revenue Canada, Health Canada, Public Works, and Justice Canada, which issued a news release in January saying the “Harper Government” was announcing that a new Citizen’s Arrest Law had taken effect.
Liberal MP John McCallum (Markham-Unionville, Ont.), who obtained the list of news releases from the government through a written request for the information in the House of Commons, said the pattern suggests that Prime Minister Harper and his Cabinet are politicizing public servants.
“You’re politicizing the department,” he told The Hill Times.
“It’s not a government that belongs to Stephen Harper, it’s the Canadian government, and I think the politicians are politicizing the public servants and forcing them to use a term which they [Conservatives] think will help them get re-elected,” Mr. McCallum told The Hill Times.
The government has been questioned occasionally over the past few months as it became apparent the “Harper Government” term had slipped from a routine reference in media statements from the Prime Minister’s Office or from the political offices of Cabinet ministers, and government media assistants have distributed examples of releases from former premiers, prime ministers and Cabinet ministers attaching similar titles in media statements.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Harper told The Hill Timeseven Liberals use the term “Harper Government” and said use of the term complies with government communication policy and the Federal Identity Program, the Government of Canada’s corporate identity program.
“A simple check of online archives shows that the terms ‘Chrétien Government,’ ‘Martin Government,’ and similar variations appear in official government communications by various governments,” said PMO press secretary Julie Vaux.
“This terminology is widely used by journalists, the public, and the Liberal Party, itself. In fact, the official Liberal website has over 100 references to the ‘Harper Government,’ since January 2009,” Ms. Vaux said in an email to The Hill Times.
Mr. McCallum, however, argued that the practice in the past was occasional, and limited to news releases from political staff of prime ministers, or ministers.
“Once in a while, a release by a minister’s office or the PMO would say ‘Chrétien Government,’ or, ‘Martin Government,’ but I think that was the exception to the rule and I don’t think we ever had those terms coming out of departments,” Mr. McCallum said.
According to the list tabled on Monday in the Commons, the only major department to report it has never used the term “Harper Government” in a news release was the Department of National Defence.
Industry Canada reported a total of 27 news releases with the “Harper Government” term since March 19, with a total of 18 from the Natural Resources Department since last Dec. 11.
Canada Revenue Agency issued 12 news releases with the term, while Canadian Heritage posted or distributed a total of 49, many focused on War of 1812 memorials.
The Western Economic Development Agency, which funds community infrastructure and other projects in the Prairie provinces and British Columbia, issued or posted 163 news releases touting funding and other services from the “Harper Government”—more news releases with the term than any other agency or department.
The agency posted news releases nearly every day through April, virtually all quoting local Conservative MPs in small towns or cities announcing grants awarded by the “Harper Government.”
On April 8, Conservative MP Rob Merrifield (Yellowhead, Alta.) announced a $67,800 federal grant to buff up a Swan Hills, Alta., swimming pool.
“By making investments in local infrastructure, we are helping Canadians maintain a high qualify of life, while creating safe and accessible infrastructure facilities for years top come,” the government agency statement quoting Mr. Merrifield said.
“The Harper Government’s investment of $67,000 supports the resurfacing of the Swan Hills Aquatic Centre’s swimming pool, as well as the replacement of the pool’s border and lane-marking tiles,” the statement said.
Author: TIM NAUMETZ