99 stupid things the government did with your money: Part I

Blue Bombers season tickets, caviar and Black Eyed Peas

by Jason Kirby, Mika Rekai, Nick Taylor-Vaisey, Rosemary Westwood, and Tamsin McMahon

For taxpayers concerned with out-of-control government spending, 2012 started on a bright enough note. Last January, the Department of National Defence announced it wanted to buy 20,000 custom-printed stress balls for its staff. Once Defence Minister Peter MacKay caught wind of the plan, he quickly cancelled the contract, calling it an “unnecessary expense of taxpayer money.” Noble words, but it was a brief reprieve. As Maclean’s found once again when researching this project, whether it was Ottawa, the provinces, municipalities or the organizations they oversee, governments couldn’t help themselves when it came to doling out cash. What follows is but a fraction of the foolish, wasteful and blatantly stupid ways governments found to spend taxpayers’ money. To uncover this year’s 99 items we pored over press releases and auditor generals’ reports, sifted through proactive disclosure statements and delved into media databases across the country, ferreting out examples of spending that occurred in 2012 or came to light last year. There will be those who take issue with some items on this list, arguing, for instance, that funding rock concerts boosts the economy. But the reality is that at every level of government, we’re in far worse fiscal shape than we were even a year ago, despite all the talk of cutbacks and austerity. And as this list makes clear, those who control the public purse have yet to really change their ways.

Luxury hotels, hemp body cream and subsidized hip-hop concerts: our second annual list of waste shows spending by all levels of government is still out of control. Find 33 of those stupid things below. And check us out tomorrow to see 33 more stupid things your government did with your money.

Sports & Leisure — when blowing money is the name of the game

Bad slice: The City of Abbotsford, B.C. handed a $115,000 “one-time grant” to a struggling municipal golf course, claiming its problems stem, in part, from poor weather. In a report, city staff said “good weather” was among the things “being worked on” to turn it around.

2 Sore loser: Former Regina mayor Pat Fiacco expensed more than $4,000 worth of tickets to sporting events, including $1,055 for Montreal Alouettes season’s tickets, nearly 3,000 km away. The tickets were the result of a bet Fiacco made with former Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay that the Saskatchewan Roughriders would beat the Alouettes in the 2010 Grey Cup. The Riders lost—and so did Regina taxpayers.

3 Cheap seats: Sam Katz, mayor of Winnipeg, is a big fan of the Blue Bombers, but apparently not enough to pay for tickets out of his own pocket. The mayor billed taxpayers $2,033 for a pair of season’s tickets, even though critics pointed out that other politicians, like Premier Greg Selinger, paid for their own sporting tickets.

4 Losing bet: Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo clearly knows when to hold ’em and fold ’em. The B.C. Lottery Corp. paid him $160,000 last year for an endorsement deal that included a $10,000 entry fee into the World Series of Poker event in Las Vegas—pocket change for a man with a decade left on a $64-million hockey contract.

5 Le’go the money: Ontario’s Municipal Property Assessment Corp. spent $170,000 on a one-day team-building event that included an exercise playing with Lego.

Out of bounds: The City of Whitehorse coughed up $1.3 million for Mount Sima, a struggling nearby ski hill. The money was diverted from the city’s infrastructure fund, which had been topped up by the federal government. That was on top of $1.6 million the city gave the hill a year earlier for a ski lift.

Meanwhile: Ottawa shovelled $1.5 million into 10 Quebec snowmobile clubs for snow grooming (7); the feds pumped $13,000 into a Tsawwassen lawn bowling club in Delta, B.C., to create “jobs, growth and long-term economic prosperity” (8); the City of Ottawa spent $48,000 on a “deluxe” three-sided bike cage for city employees (9); Saanich, B.C., faces an $818,000 deficit on the city-owned Cedar Hill golf course (10); Kitchener, Ont., transferred $1 million into a “golf stabilization reserve fund” to prop up two money-losing golf courses (11).

Other folks’ money — corporate handouts and subsidies for all

12Korpporät welfår: Ikea is a Swedish retailing behemoth rolling in kronor, but when it came to opening its first store in Winnipeg, that didn’t stop the city and province from offering a combined $22 million in subsidies. Did we mention Ikea’s annual sales of $30 billion are roughly three times what Manitoba brings in each year from all forms of taxes, fees and transfers?

13 Paper chase: In December 2011, Nova Scotia’s provincial government handed $24 million to the owner of the Bowater Mersey paper mill in return for a swath of company land in the hopes of staving off its closure. By June the mill had gone out of business.

14 Something fishy: For more than a decade, Supreme Sturgeon and Caviar of New Brunswick raked in some $3 million in grants and loans from the federal government before falling into receivership in 2010. Resurrected by new owners as Breviro Caviar, it’s now back in the subsidy business, winning $200,000 from Ottawa in marketing funds and $50,000 to “hire expertise in caviar production.”

15 Flat battery: The B.C. government said it would spend $2.7 million to build hundreds of electric-car-charging stations across the province in an effort to encourage drivers to buy vehicles such as the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. That’s in addition to a $5,000 rebate to drivers. Yet just 210 electric vehicles have been sold in the province—effectively translating into an $18,000 per vehicle subsidy for the carmakers.

Meanwhile: Four months after getting $3.8 million from New Brunswick to create 300 new jobs, Radian6, a social media monitoring firm, said it would slash 100 jobs globally (16); a CBC News analysis found $20 million doled out by Newfoundland to attract out-of-province business generated just 58 full-time jobs (17).

Cultured club — the same old song and dance for taxpayers

18 TV time: British Columbians saw $48,000 go to bringing Entertainment Tonight Canada to Vancouver for three days. Included in the provincial payout was $16,000 in airfare from Toronto and $12,000 worth of hotel accommodations.

19 Tear down the haul: The federal government subsidized Quebec City’s summer festival to the tune of $1 million, in part to help pay for a show by former Pink Floyd band member Roger Waters. The Plains of Abraham was the last stop on the aging rocker’s Wall Tour, which earned a total of $158 million from worldwide ticket sales.

20 Party on: The B.C. government sponsored a $3-million rock music tour last summer called JobFest, where attendees (when there were any) were offered on-site career counselling. Roughly $100,000 went to promotional kits, including glow sticks, guitar picks and glossy posters, mailed out to local businesses and media.

21Moving pictures: Winnipeg city council voted to spend $10,000 to transfer a work of art from the old Winnipeg airport to the University of Manitoba, even though city staff recommended denying the request.

22 Stamped out: 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, and though it bills itself as the “Greatest Show on Earth,” the federal government still felt the need to kick in $5 million to promote it—including putting a chuckwagon food truck in New York City.

23 A black eye: In May, Halifax councillors voted to cut a cheque for $360,000 to cover bad debts stemming from a money-losing Black Eyed Peas concert two years earlier.

Showing off — The price of looking good is on the rise

24 Maybe he’s born with it: Not one to be caught without his game face on, it was revealed the office of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty expensed $130 worth of cosmetics for an apparent beauty emergency ahead of a televised budget announcement. Flaherty’s staff scrambled to purchase concealer, blush, loose powder and shaving supplies to do the minister’s makeup after a cosmetician cancelled at the last minute. For anyone wanting to replicate the look, Flaherty wears a combination of Maybelline, CoverGirl and Smashbox.

25 Funny money: The Bank of Canada spent nearly $40,000 to promote its new $20 bill. The spending included $35,832 to a company to design and install seven-storey images of the new polymer note on the bank’s headquarters in downtown Ottawa in May. In total, spending to promote the new bill equalled 1,942 of the new $20 notes.

26 Fumble for fame: Four small cities, including Guelph, Ont., and Langley, B.C., forked over a total of roughly $100,000 to have former football great Terry Bradshaw appear in short promos about them that were meant to attract new American business to small-town Canada. The videos found airtime mostly off hours, while the famous QB, who narrates the promos, couldn’t sound more bored.

27 Over-planned: The recession may have ended a while ago, but that hasn’t stopped Stephen Harper’s government from spending millions on advertisements featuring its Economic Action Plan stimulus slogan. The government spent $16 million in three months on feel-good commercials about Canada’s economic prosperity.

28 Top gun: Despite getting a mock jet for free from manufacturer Lockheed Martin, Defence Minister Peter MacKay still managed to spend $47,000 on a 2010 press conference where he posed with the fake plane.

29 Centless spending: Eliminating the penny was supposed to save the government, but not without a final splurge. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty stamped the last Canadian penny in a photo op that cost $56,000.

30 Gold medal waste: The federal government spent at least $4.5 million on ads that ran during the two weeks of the London Olympics, but shelled out just $214,000 to Canadian athletes who won medals during the Games.

Meanwhile: Jason Kenney’s department spent almost $750,000 monitoring what ethnic media were saying about the immigration minister and his ministry while denying the exercise was politically motivated (31); B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s office spent $64 million on ad campaigns, twice that of her predecessor (32); the City of Ottawa spent $3,500 on a consultant to teach firefighters how to talk to the media, despite having a communications staff of 44, many of whom were capable of doing it themselves (33);




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99 stupid things the government did with your money: Part I

  1. As per the usual our governing body, continues to gouge the average canadians pockets. With no regard for morality. They are greedy, selfish and immoral. We live in a country where the government seems to be above the law,no wonder we see the little man engage in such things as the selling illisict drugs, or bootlegging tobacco. You should be ashamed of yourselves,gov.

    • Politicians have NO shame!

    • as per usual, the people keep allowing it to happen.

  2. Good old Flaherty, Harper’s mighty midget.

    The guy has a license to print money and he can’t even come out ahead doing that.

    Just goes to show; when you try to put a burned out street lawyer up as Finance Minister you’re staring failure in the face.

  3. The amounts in the article’s list is CHUMP CHANGE compared to:

    $2.4 Billion for the Toronto Pan Am Games, which will make wealthy construction companies and real estate developers even wealthier.

    CMHC forcing taxpayers, non-homeowners and the young to insure hundreds of billions of dollars of mortgages, which private insurance companies would never touch, to fuel a housing bubble for the benefit of older baby boomer homeowners.

    $600 Billion stolen from children by the federal government.

    $1 Trillion stolen from children in total by all governments combined.

    • Agree with everything but the stab at the CMHC. They might be providing the insurance but it’s the bank’s that are financing the mortgage with ridiculous rates

      • The banks wouldn’t be giving out jumbo mortgages to borrowers who make $40k per year if the mortgages were not insured. The banks get all the reward but take not risk. They are behaving as expected.

        No private insurance company in the free-market (free-market is a myth) would touch those mortgages.

        Why is the CMHC insuring $1,000,000 mortgages? Is the government suppose to be helping the rich to buy $1 million homes, or is it suppose to help poorer Canadians buy starter-homes? Remember, the government is paid for by the average Canadian, who averages $40k/year in income. This means the government is forcing the poor to help the rich.

        Seven of the nine directors on the CMHC board made or make their living from real estate. Would they benefit from a bubble, or low prices to help first-time buyers?

        The amount of money that CMHC will force taxpayers, non-homeowners and children to cough up if they gambled wrong on their insurance, will be no less than criminal.

        Search for and read:

        Housing, the most manipulated market in the world newworldparty

        Screwing the Young, Over and Over Again newworldparty

  4. Sadly, they get away with this waste. We need to get this information to more people so we can pressure these idiots to stop wasting our funds and stop paying themselves bug bucks…including .huge pensions!

  5. Blowing small change out of all proportion, as usual. No wonder we dont subscribe to Macleans anymore.

  6. #5 is a complete distortion of the facts and sensationalist journalism to try and stir up controversy with no merit. Don’t believe everything you read!

    • $170,000 for a single day’s training doesn’t seem sensationalist to me. It sounds like a they did something the expensive way when the $600 way would have been just as effective.

  7. Pretty sad article. Yes companies get grants from government and often it does result in jobs. It is easy to poke at when it does not happen, but business is inherently risky.

    The one that does upset me is giving grants to Ikea. NEVER EVER should a retail business of any sort get a grant, tax breaks, etc. No offense to retail and I am not knocking the need for retail in general, but it does not “generate” jobs, it shifts money from one pocket to another. Nothing is “created” and for all intents and purposes little in the way of “service” is rendered. There is no value add and certainly no export. If Ikea wants to open a store in Canada, let Sweden incentivize them.

  8. This is very sad. No wonder politicians have a bad rep… they certain talk and spend big – especially when the money is not their own.

  9. The bigger problem is that screwing taxpayers is found to be very orgasmic for many politicians.

  10. Should we question whether there is a corruption in the case of City of Abbotsford, B.C. handled $115,000 to that golf course? Since everyone knows the weather cannot be changed, then they do not need to do anything. Then the money could go back to the pockets of those decision makers or companies run by their relatives or close friends. Maybe we should ask the City of Abbotsford to present a detailed spending report.

  11. Guelph shelled out 100 grand for a washed-up QB to appear in that promo video with our washed-up so called mayor. Just the tip of the iceberg here.

  12. Did MacLeans ever waste any money ? Did writers waste any money ? Do corporations waste, lose money ? Yes but they dont tell us when they bet and lose. Governments on the other hand, are open to criticism because you can find out how they lost, wasted money ! I am as frugal as anyone but occasionally I waste money too … dining out, buying mocca chino expressos, buying expensive cars that depreciate quickly .. etc. etc.

  13. Hummm! Abbotsford on top again for the 2nd year in a row. Makes you wonder about the water at City Hall!

  14. The trouble is that people going into government seem to be normal. It’s when they get there that their true personalities appear. It is said that psychopaths have no conscience and reading this litany of crimes tells me that this is true. Is there a way we could just chuck the government thing and have responsible citizens work together to run this country? It couldn’t do much worse than what we have.

  15. This is lovely demagoguery at its worst; getting us all worked up about expenses without the full back-ground story. Some of these are obviously last minutes decisions to spend what is a miniscule amount of money (the equivalent of grabbing a muffin to go with your coffee). I find the reference to the Tsawwassen Bowls Club particularly annoying. I imagine (because nothing a tiresome as detail was provided) that the money was applied for in a grant program and that the club’s request fulfilled all of the grant’s requirements. They just got singled out because the Sport of Lawn Bowls is just a punch-line as far as the press is concerned, despite the fact that 15,000 people participate in the sport and that at the recent World Championships Canada won 3 medals!

  16. The government has put us in debt and now is expecting us to pay for it. They’re wrong something has to happen for them to realize we are not a piece of dirt on the road that they can drive over time and time again.

    • I know they have issues but it is not right for them to use out tax money for their personal uses like make-up and sports games.

  17. Politicians all have two sets of rules. One set is for them an the other set is for the rest of us. Or as my dad would say, “Don’t do what I do; do what I tell you to.”

  18. When I go to one of those places that charge a dollar for most things for example and my change should be .67 cents and they only give me .65 cents back in change. I was ripped off. So where did the money go, should I not claim it on my taxes lost income,revenue or should I just add my two cents too this loosing proposition.

  19. All you complainers nedd to stop and help kick them out and get off the frickibg computer and do somthing about it!!! I will and have sent letters but i am just one voice we need every canadian to speak up its our kids futures at steak here!! If you care about our childerens future you will! The government works for us we pay there wages! If every canadian didnt go to work for a couple weeks it would cause chaos all over ! We need to get rid of these bums they have been screwing our country up way to long! And making everything they do legal for the purpose of money in there pockets

  20. Damn all those sociopaths in our govt. Canada must not follow the path of the US. Let’s learn what not to do and be accountable for our country. Government should represent the people as a whole, don’t support us…give us the chance to succeed as individuals. This means we have the chance to fail honestly too. Corporate should be allowed to fail, the people should not support banks and corporations, and neither should the govt! Wake up Canada!

  21. What was spent in Muskoka beach fronts again, don’t forget the g20. We better stop before Harper sues us for harassment.

  22. compared to all the other things the government spends money on, these are really not bad investments, because what they mostly seem to be are INVESTMENTS. putting money into an event that will create a lot more money for the community is not a waste of money. they are trying to stimulate the economy and/or create jobs. and for the most part, the others are out of context and sensationalized.

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