PARLIAMENT HILL – The Harper government’s decision to dole out a minimum of $3.1-billion in new and existing child care benefits on July 20—only eight weeks before the scheduled federal election on Oct. 19, 2015—takes “election pandering” to new heights, opposition MPs say. The government payments that day will include $1.9-billion in new child care benefits. The new money comes under proposed Income Tax Act amendments government MPs endorsed this week that extend the benefit well beyond normal daycare years, up to and including age 17, allowing parents to receive a new $60 monthly payment for each child of that age. The July 20 payments—including benefits for the new, older age bracket and also higher benefits for children under six who have been covered under the plan since the Conservatives introduced it in 2006—will also include retroactive payments covering the first six months of 2015. The $60 increase the government is proposing for children up to age five, on top of the existing monthly payment of $100 for each child in that age range, will take the total pre-election, one-day handout to a minimum of $3,141,140,080, using Statistics Canada’s 2014 population estimates by age as a base. The $3.1-billion in payouts the government says will be made to an estimated 1.7 million families is on top of its controversial income splitting scheme. Parents, primarily middle income and wealthy ones, will be able to take advantage of that tax break earlier in 2015 when they file their yearly income tax returns. Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) announced the changes late last month. The Conservative majority in the Commons this week passed a motion detailing Income Tax Act amendments the government intends to make to implement the changes in time for the higher payouts next July, and also to have the income-splitting regime in place for parents to apply it on their tax returns for 2014. The government estimates the income-splitting option for two parents with children under age 18 will save families a total of $2.4-billion for the 2014-15 fiscal period. The income tax savings will be limited to $2,000 per family. “It’s election pandering,” NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.) told The Hill Times. “It’s trying to buy people with their own money and trying to cover up the fact that they made a promise for income splitting, which is in its DNA completely unfair, because it pushes most of the benefits to the wealthiest Canadians,” said Mr. Cullen, the NDP finance critic. Mr. Cullen said the one-time-only handout, including the retroactive payments, is available only because the government did not use $7-billion worth of approved spending last year that Parliament had approved for a range of programs, including infrastructure, defence and security areas. The lapse in government spending was revealed in the Public Accounts for 2013-14 that the government tabled in Parliament last month. “This is the old scam that Liberals perfected, and the Conservatives have just ramped it up,” Mr. Cullen said in an interview Thursday. “They don’t spend $7-billion that they had approved from Parliament, money they all took credit for, and made announcements in the media and slapped themselves on the back,” he said. “They don’t spend that money, quite cynically, including places like Veterans Affairs, and security, and defence and health. All of these things—promised, granted, take credit—but don’t spend it, save it for now to balance the books so that when they balance the books they can run a fake surplus, make huge and expensive promises and drop them into the laps of Canadians a few weeks or months before an election,” Mr. Cullen said. Liberal MP Scott Brison (Kings Hants, N.S.) was also surprised at the total amount of money the government intends to hand out in one day as the election approaches. “The timing of any of these announcements will be based on Conservative politics, not on the principles of accountability to Parliament or economic priorities. They will be based 100 per cent on Conservative pre-election timing, so they will choose a timing consistent with what they believe to be the best interests of the Conservative Party of Canada,” Mr. Brison said Thursday. “Both the timing and the structure of these methods, including retroactivity, are being designed totally around Conservative electoral strategy. From the Conservative perspective, if the Conservatives want to buy people’s votes with their own money, they want to be as obvious as possible in making people aware of it,” Mr. Brison said. A spokesperson for Finance Canada, to whom a spokesperson for Finance Minister Joe Oliver (Eglinton Lawrence, Ont.) referred questions, acknowledged the yearly cycle for paying out the child tax benefit has begun on July 20 for the past eight years. “It is correct the UCCB benefit year begins in July, but the government wished to deliver benefits to families at the earliest opportunity,” said Stephanie Rubec, acting senior chief of media relations at Finance Canada. Ms. Rubec made the statement after The Hill Times asked the department why the increase in benefits, as well as the expansion to the older age bracket, would not start at the beginning of the yearly cycle rather than being applied retroactively to cover a period of six months in which parents had already received the existing child care benefit allowance. The campaign for an Oct. 19 general election, the fixed date for the election under legislation the Conservative government introduced in 2007, would officially begin with Elections Canada issuing writs for all federal electoral districts on Sunday, Sept. 13. firstname.lastname@example.org Correction: A previous version of this story said the campaign for an Oct. 19 election would begin Sept. 14. The real date is Sept. 13. It also identified Stephanie Rubec as assistant senior chief of media relations rather than acting senior chief.