OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Liberal Party said on Thursday it was launching an ethics complaint against the Conservative government, charging it was playing partisan politics with stimulus programs.
The Liberals lodged the complaint against Prime Minister Stephen Harper and 47 other legislators for putting their signatures at the bottom of oversized publicity checks used in announcing federal grants for infrastructure programs and other economic stimulus measures.
In the case of at least two members of Parliament, they said, the Conservative Party logo was also on the checks.
The Liberals have asked Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson to rule that putting legislators' names on the checks violates conflict-of-interest legislation that prevents office holders from doing anything officially on behalf of Parliament that furthers their "private interests."
"You know what? Staying elected is a private interest," Liberal Member of Parliament David McGuinty told a news conference.
The charges form part of a campaign under which the Liberals, the main opposition party in Parliament, assert that the government is using stimulus funds unfairly to boost Conservative re-election chances.
They complain, and the government denies, that funds are going disproportionately to electoral districts held by the Conservatives.
Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas said it was inappropriate to have the Conservative logo on checks but there was nothing wrong with having lawmakers' signatures on them, representing their work in pushing for government projects.
"One of the most important functions of a member of Parliament is ... to support and promote local and regional projects," Soudas said.
"They represent their constituents; they're not signing as individuals. And, first of all, these checks are mock checks. They're not real checks that people take to the bank."
The Conservatives are 12 seats short of a majority in the 308-seat House of Commons, meaning they could be brought down at any time if all three opposition parties teamed up against them.
However, they are 10 to 15 percentage points ahead of the second-place Liberals in the polls, and therefore most analysts expect no election will be triggered this year.
Also reducing the chances of a fall election, the separatist Bloc Quebecois decided on Thursday against moving a non-confidence motion on October 19 -- when it gets to set the parliamentary agenda. Instead, it submitted an innocuous motion asking for help for the forestry industry, one that would not bring down the government if it passes.
Editing by Rob Wilson