Mad Man (and Woman): Liveblogging Michael Ignatieff and Martha Hall Findlay on partisan political advertising

Hey, remember that $34 million in Economic Action! Plan-related ad spending that Canadian Press wrote about earlier this week? Well, the Liberals are finally getting around to holding a press conference to denounce it — like Dirk Gently, five days late but moving fast – and ITQ will be there to liveblog the festivities, starting at 10am, so be sure to check back for full coverage.

Oh, and speaking of possibly partisan advertising, an ITQ mini-challenge to commenters, just to keep y’all busy while waiting for this morning’s antics to get underway: How many ways does the Action! plan website — a Privy Council Office production that was the object of its very own traffic-driving ad campaign, which included over $1 million for the most recent spot, which warns viewers that, although the plan is working, “we’ve got to stay on track” — violate Treasury Board standards for common look and feel?

Post your count in the comments, and ITQ will meet you back here at10am.

9:42:50 AM
Greetings, members of the Whatever Happened To Party of Accountability Club! ITQ is installed in her usual seat in the second row of the Charles Lynch Press Theatre, waiting patiently for what is now being teasered by bright-eyed Liberal research operatives as an announcement. What could it be? ITQ would put her money — her *own* money, not cabinet-approved and signed off on by Treasury Board, for the record — on a proposal to create some sort of gimlet-eyed independent commissioner to monitor all government ad spending for illicit partisan messaging — maybe even a new Officer of Parliament! It could be called — the Federal Accountability Act. (What do you mean, ‘that’s been taken’?)

9:54:26 AM
As the Wall of Cameras angling for the best shot of the Ignatieff/Hall Findlay powerwalk down the hall, the room is filling up with media:CanWest, Sun News, the Toronto Star, Canadian Press, of course – after all, it was Bruce Cheadle who broke the story – a surprisingly good turnout for a Friday morning presser, but then again, it’s not like there’s much else happening on the Hill today.
9:57:48 AM
Two minute warning! Whee!

9:58:59 AM
And here he is! He *and* she – Martha Hall in moonstone yellow, the leader in a jaunty pink tie — and without further ado, the latter gets down to business: he’s here to talk about a scandal. A scandal! He also seems to be taking credit for Cheadle’s story — “as soon as we pointed this out,” he says, the prime minister’s photos disappeared from the website. Bad form, sir. This one belongs to CP. Anyway, it’s a “flagrant” abuse of taxpayer dollars, which is why he’s proposing — drum roll — an independent assessment body, like the one in Ontario, to make sure that “the Government of Canada” advertises on behalf of the government of Canada, and not the party in power.

Shoulda been an independent officer of parliament, in ITQ’s view, but still: frankly, it’s a pretty good idea.

10:03:53 AM
After giving the same speech in French, and even tying today’s announcement to both Gerard Kennedy’s investigation into infrastructure funding and the Toronto Star piece on how he was “airbrushed” (poetic licence, I guess) out of the photos of the ostensibly nonpartisan pork barbeque that was held last year to show support for the industry and allay the fears of border closure, he turns the microphone over to Hall Findlay, who gives us a quick lesson in — hey, common look and feel! No, ITQ did not get advance warning that she’d be highlighting that particular aspect of government communications policy.

10:07:04 AM
Martha Hall Findlay notes that even though the PM may *wish* that his image was, in fact, an official symbol of the Government of Canada, it isn’t — which means that its use on so many websites may well violate the Federal Identity Program.

10:08:02 AM
And with that, he’s happy to turn the floor over reporters for questions, and the first one goes to Brian Lilley of whatever CFRB is now known, who asks about — a Bloc Quebecois ad campaign against Ignatieff, which suggests that he and Harper are virtually identical, as far their policies go. How does he respond? Actually, fairly thoroughly — he manages to stick to the topic of the press conference in his opening line, noting that one difference is that *he* wouldn’t spend millions of dollars on partisan advertising. Oh, that’s what they all say.

Martha Hall Findlay points out that they’d *change the rules* on that advertising, but Lilley dismisses that — it’s a minor policy, and Canadians aren’t about to “rally around” a proposal to change the way the government advertises. MHF gets a little tetchy in response, but Ignatieff moves in, calling it a “perfectly fair question”, and then gives a twitter-friendly recap of his vision for a goverment that works *with* the market, as opposed to that laissez faire view that the current PM has taken.

10:13:29 AM
Asked whether he thinks the “attacks” on himself and his character are working, Ignatieff once again tries to go back to what he, at least, sees as the main issue — the advertising — but the reporter tells him that “we’ve got that”, as far as messages go — he wants to hear Ignatieff’s thoughts on the effectiveness of those ads.

10:15:29 AM
A question on the Cauchon/Coderre contretemps in Quebec (and try saying that seven times fast) elicits lavish praise for the former — “we want him to run for us,” Ignatieff insists. Just not, as Colleague Wells so succinctly pointed out earlier this week, in the only riding he’s ever held.

10:17:06 AM
Onto Iran — yes, this has turned into an ad hoc bearpit session — and Ignatieff calls on the world to ‘stand together’ to let Iran know that this ‘gameplaying’ won’t be tolerated — and yes, “of course” he supports sanctions.

10:18:01 AM
Another Cauchon question, in French — what will he do if he refuses the riding he’s been offered — and Ignatieff steadfastly refuses to anticipate his response.

10:18:58 AM
CTV’s Roger Smith wants to know if he – and MHF – are saying that the government is breaking the rules, and if so, what they’re going to do about it. Unfortunately, there’s not much they *can* do about it, as far as ITQ can tell: TBS sets the guidelines; they don’t enforce them.

MHF, however, has a better answer: the website – and possibly the ads as well – may violate the Code of Conduct for membes, as well as the Canada Elections Act rules on financing. They’re looking at several sorts of official complaints that they can make.

10:21:19 AM
And that’s all for today’s show!

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