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The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - OPINION -

One of the things that drove crit­ics of Stephen Harper to dis­trac­tion was his gov­ern­ment’s fre­quent habit of spend­ing mil­lions of tax­payer dol­lars on ad­ver­tis­ing that was lit­tle more than pro­pa­ganda, tout­ing its good and great works.

Two in­stances were par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable for their brazen­ness. One was the $2.5-mil­lion the Harper gov­ern­ment spent in 2013 on in­ter­net and TV ads to boast about a pro­gram, the Canada Jobs Grant, that didn’t ex­ist at the time.

The other came in 2015, when the same gov­ern­ment spent $7.5-mil­lion to tout its pre-elec­tion bud­get, run­ning ads dur­ing the NHL play­offs that were hard to dis­tin­guish from Con­ser­va­tive Party cam­paign ma­te­rial.

Oth­ers have done like­wise, and been widely con­demned for it. The cur­rent leader in the field is the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment of On­tario, whose tax­payer-funded ads for it­self are im­pos­si­ble to miss if you watch TV or browse the in­ter­net.

Us­ing tax­payer dol­lars and gov­ern­ment re­sources to cre­ate a favourable im­pres­sion of a gov­ern­ing party is a high sin in a democ­racy. Self-pro­mo­tion should left to the par­ties them­selves, at their own ex­pense.

Which is why it is galling that the gov­ern­ment of Justin Trudeau has now com­mit­ted the same sin, af­ter vow­ing to set a bet­ter tone in Ot­tawa.

Mr. Trudeau’s gov­ern­ment un­veiled what it called its “man­date let­ter tracker” this month. Us­ing a gov­ern­ment web page, the tracker pur­ports to tally the progress of all the man­dates the Prime Min­is­ter as­signed to his min­is­ters – a to­tal of 322, not in­clud­ing an ad­di­tional 42 that came about as a re­sult of a cab­i­net shuf­fle in Oc­to­ber.

It’s a mis­lead­ing ex­er­cise. The min­is­ters’ man­dates are al­most en­tirely Lib­eral elec­tion-plat­form prom­ises, which means the gov­ern­ment is grad­ing it­self on terms set by the party.

Cana­di­ans will not be sur­prised to learn that the vast ma­jor­ity of the Lib­eral Party’s elec­tion prom­ises – 285 out of 322 – have ei­ther been “com­pleted” or are “un­der­way on track.”

That is the opin­ion of the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment, any­way. The elec­tion prom­ise to “re­form Ques­tion Pe­riod so that all mem­bers, in­clud­ing the Prime Min­is­ter, are held to greater ac­count” is graded as “com­pleted fully met” – a con­clu­sion only the most fer­vid Lib­eral par­ti­san could reach.

The Trudeau gov­ern­ment de­fends the man­date tracker the same way Mr. Harper de­fended his gov­ern­ment’s ad­ver­tise­ments – as a way to keep Cana­di­ans in­formed. No one fell for it then, and no one should now.

Mr. Trudeau says the man­date tracker is de­signed to show Cana­di­ans “ex­actly how we’re do­ing.” It does that, but not in the way he hopes.

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