Opposition says Conservative ads show contempt for Parliament

Posted by admin on May 16th, 2008

Norma Greenaway. Canwest News Service. Thursday, May 15, 2008

OTTAWA – Liberal and New Democrat MPs say the Conservative government is showing contempt for Parliament by using $1.1 million in taxpayer dollars to finance an ad campaign in the ethnic media promoting immigration reforms that are not yet law. The MPs made their case Thursday in the Commons as they asked Speaker Peter Milliken to find the government in contempt and refer the issue to a Commons committee for further study.

New Democrat Olivia Chow denounced the campaign as an unacceptable attempt to sway public opinion that sets a dangerous precedent and threatens parliamentary democracy.

Urging Milliken to act now to prevent future abuse, she said; “We cannot allow the floodgates to open to extreme partisan advertising paid for by the public purse.”

Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis said the government’s action “shows a blatant disregard for parliamentary procedure and shows a complete contempt of this House on the part of the minister of Citizenship and Immigration.”

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said Milliken should dismiss the complaints as too late and off base. Noting the ads began running a month ago, Van Loan said the MPs did not meet parliamentary rules that such objections be filed in a timely manner. He also said the ads did not portray the changes as anything other than proposals now being debated by Parliament.

“The respectful tone of the ads cannot be viewed as dismissive of Parliament and members of Parliament,” Van Loan said, after reading one in English into the record.

Milliken, who asked for copies of the ads, deferred his ruling until after MPs return from a week-long break on May 26.

Immigration Minister Diane Finley has defended the campaign as a smart way to inform immigrants and potential immigrants about happenings in Parliament that may affect them because they rely so heavily on the ethnic media for their information.

Karygiannis, a self-described cheerleader of government advertising in the ethnic media, scoffed at the argument. The fact the government finally found the ethnic press is wonderful, he said, but not one penny should have been spent until the bill was law.

The changes would allow the minister of immigration to set priority categories of immigrants, whereas under the current system the department must process all applications for permanent residence in Canada, a requirement that officials blame for a backlog of 925,000 applicants. The opposition parties have decried the change on grounds it will allow the minister to “cherry pick” who gets to immigrate to Canada.

In a letter to Milliken, Chow cited a previous speaker’s warnings when the government of Brian Mulroney placed ads advising the GST was coming into effect before the measure had won final parliamentary approval.

Although John Fraser, who was speaker at the time, did not find the government in contempt, he registered his unhappiness with the government’s actions. He called the advertising “ill-conceived” and said it shouldn’t be repeated. “We are a parliamentary democracy, not a so-called executive democracy, not a so-called administrative democracy,” he said.

Van Loan argued the government’s approach is different than was the case when Fraser ruled because, unlike the GST_ads, the immigration ads respect the fact that Parliament has yet to make a decision. In the 1989 ads, the government did not acknowledge the bill introducing the GST was before Parliament, which is what Fraser took strong exception to.

The immigration reforms – which the government rolled into a massive budget implementation bill over the objection of the three opposition parties – are being studied by the Commons Finance committee and the Citizenship and Immigration committee.

Immigration spokeswoman Danielle Norris said the $1.1 million worth of ads, which the department calls “public notices,” were placed on 43 ethnic radio stations, 260 ethnic newspapers and Canadian Immigrant Magazine. The department plans to spend a further $2 million advertising the immigration reforms and other unspecified immigration matters, possibly by the end of June, she said, adding that $28,000 of that total is earmarked for English and French mainstream media.

Ottawa Citizen

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