Canada's Tories say the government's new slogan is a state secret

Stephen Harper's government has spent millions of tax dollars advertising the upcoming Canada Day celebration with the slogan "Strong, proud, free," which also happens to be awfully close to their election slogan.

The Canadian Press filed an Access to Information request for a look at the 149-page Treasury Board memo that resulted in the slogan's adoption. The Conservative government told the Information Commission to get lost, saying the memo was a "cabinet confidence" and would be under seal for 20 years. Not only is the memo's text a state secret, so is the name of its author, the ministry the author worked for, the date and the title of the memo.

The Conservatives have come under repeated criticism for spending tens of millions of dollars annually on government advertising that is often indistinguishable from the partisan branding of the party. The marketing exercise extends to departmental web design (now a uniform Tory blue, with cross-pollinating links to popular Conservative initiatives such as family tax cuts) and even departmental press releases, often heralding local "Harper government" expenditures.

"There have been some ambiguous government ads where a plausible defence could be made that they are not partisan or that they provide some modicum of information, but the 'Strong Proud Free' tagline makes no such pretence," said Jonathan Rose, a specialist in political communication at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

"It's almost verbatim from the Conservative party website."

Marland said the sponsorship scandal of the 1990s laid bare the need for more transparency on government communications, especially advertising, and helped spur annual government reports detailing ad campaigns and their cost.

Ottawa's 'Strong Proud Free' slogan can't be explained because it's a secret
[Bruce Cheadle/Canadian Press]