Advertising Budget

Hon. Jim Munson: My question is for the Leader of the Government in the Senate, but before I ask the question I want to thank senators from the other side and this side for their support for my autism bill. I am humbled by that. I watched the debate in the House of Commons last night and it was something to see, from all parties. It is more than just awareness. There is a plan behind this bill, and we will continue to push toward this issue.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!

Senator Munson: I came to the Hill in 1972, 1974 — a long time ago — but it is the first time I felt, as I walked off the Hill and looked back up at the Peace Tower and saw the clock strike eight o’clock, “My goodness, I am a lawmaker.” It was one of those moments, because in a private member’s bill one just does not think these things will happen. It took some time. I was very proud that I could share that with everyone in the Senate.

I would also like to associate myself with the remarks of the government leader on Lincoln Alexander. In those days in the 1970s, without television, in the House of Commons as a young reporter I sat down and looked at Jim McGrath and Lincoln Alexander and Gordon Fairweather and all those Progressive Conservatives who sat there, and Lincoln was extremely important in my life as a young reporter. He took me literally under his arm and showed me a few things about what goes on here. What a gentleman and what a man. I want to associate myself with the leader on those remarks she made yesterday.

The question today has to do with tightening belts. When it comes to advertising with this government, during Mr. Harper’s government’s first five years in office, the spending in advertising has gone up $128 million over budget. That is 37 per cent more than was originally allocated. It cannot be attributed to any single event or issue.

We see here a government overspending on the advertising budget each and every year it has been in office. Canadians could not run their households this way, so why does the government feel it can do differently when it comes to managing our country?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): I thank the honourable senator, and with regard to his private member’s bill, he is to be congratulated. Autism is a very serious condition, affecting a great number of families.

I am encouraged over the last few years by the attention that this government and Parliament have paid to private member’s bills. Probably more private member’s bills now make it through Parliament, good bills from both sides that benefit all of our fellow citizens.

With regard to Lincoln Alexander, I thank the senator for his comments. I noticed the reference to Lincoln Alexander’s rather looming size. The honourable senator talks about being on the Hill since the early 1970s. I have been here since the early 1960s and I met Lincoln Alexander when John Diefenbaker convinced him to run in the 1965 election. I travelled on that election with our colleague Joyce Fairbairn. I was a political person at the time and she was a media person at the time.

With regard to advertising, as the honourable senator knows, the government undertakes a lot of advertising to inform Canadian citizens. It is the responsibility of the government to communicate important programs and initiatives to Canadians and we see these many times, whether health announcements or announcements with regard to programs the government has available for Canadian citizens to avail themselves of to increase their skills, go back to school or what have you. Advertisement expenses for 2010-11 were well below those of the last full year under Senator Munson’s former government, which at that time were $111 million.

Senator Munson: I thank the leader for her first two answers.

As to the second answer, she keeps referring back to the government I served in, but we are talking about today. We are talking about fiscal restraint today and living within our budgets. We all have to do that, both here in the Senate and in the House of Commons. The question has to do with overspending and living within available means.

The leader’s government has been cutting thousands of civil service jobs and preaching fiscal restraint to Canadians. I am sure Canadians like to see the public service taking the brunt of the restraint program.

However, the government launched a $16 million advertising blitz to promote the economic action plan. That amount was for the first quarter of this year. That initiative is long over and done with. Her government has other recent advertisement spending, including $5 million to promote better jobs, $4.5 million to recognize the bicentennial of the War of 1812, $8 million to spruce up the cuts to Old Age Security, and $5 million to paint her government as responsible environmental stewards. Ironically, this last one comes at a time when the Experimental Lakes Area is being cut to save $2 million annually and the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy was dissolved for a savings of $5.5 million. At a time when global economic circumstances demand fiscal prudence, why is the government spending this way?

Senator LeBreton: I think I responded to that in my first answer, honourable senators. It is the responsibility of the government to inform Canadians of available programs they can access, such as enrolling in skills training. The advertisement has a website, which has been extremely well used by the citizenry of this country, as people access the various government programs that are available. The advertising we do is focused primarily on the objectives of this government, which are jobs, the economy and prosperity.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!