99 stupid things the government spent your money on (IV)

A U2 concert, graffiti for hire, and an RV park


We’ve previously brought you items 1-18, subsidies and infrastructure and 19-34, food and job creation, followed by 35-55, the environment, animals, and money for nothing. Here is a sample of questionable spending on culture and tourism. Check us out tomorrow to see more stupid things your government did with your money .

Canada’s finances may be the envy of the world, but the bar is awfully low these days. Whether it’s Ottawa, the provinces or municipalities, governments across the country face horrendous deficits. We must tighten our belts, say the politicians. Austerity and cutbacks are the order of the day.

Only, you wouldn’t know it looking at this list. What follows is but a slice of the silly, wasteful, craven and often outright stupid ways governments at all levels spent taxpayers’ money over the last year. To find our 99 items, Maclean’s scoured press releases and auditor generals’ reports, contacted watchdog groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and waded through news reports, looking for examples where the money was either spent or announced in 2011. We also included a handful of egregious instances of waste that only came to light in the past 12 months, even if the actual cash was doled out in previous years.

Not everyone will agree with all these items being on the list. Some will justify handouts to companies and sports teams as necessary to “promote economic activity,” or they’ll say a camping program for new immigrants was a nice thing to do. Sure, it would be great if we could afford everything, but at a time when government spending is under the knife, when services and jobs are being cut, it’s clear many of those with their hands on the public purse have yet to come to terms with Canada’s new fiscal reality.

CULTURE SHOCK — When spending is music to a politician’s ears

56 Tunnel vision: Calgary must spend $1.6 million on “public art” to go on the walls of a new traffic tunnel being built under the airport runway, simply because of a rule that says all projects must include an art component.

57 A dog-eat-dog world: It was revealed that the federal government, through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, gave more than $180,000 in loans and grants to a Sydney, N.S., concert promoter to bring Snoop Dogg to the city to perform in 2010.

58 Rock bottom: U2 isn’t just a rock band, it’s a billion-dollar, multinational corporation. But when Bono and crew swung through Montreal for a two-night show in July for their 360° tour (which incidentally earned them $740 million worldwide), the city subsidized the event by spending $450,000 to build a temporary stadium just for the show.

59 Graffiti for hire: Montreal budgets about $150,000 annually to pay for murals painted by graffiti artists around the city. Another $1 million is spent helping boroughs get rid of murals that were, um, painted for free.

60 Ottawa handed over more than $83,000 to promote a bluegrass festival in New Richmond, Que.

61 Even though Conservative MPs want to cut off taxpayer funding to the CBC, the Harper government gave $82,000 to support a radio service in Bonne Bay, Nfld.

62 CBC documents showed it spent at least $6.6 million celebrating its 75th birthday.

TOURISM — If you throw money at it, they will come

63 Thin ice: Ottawa’s National Capital Commission installed seven new ice shacks along the Rideau Canal for skaters to lace up in. Each shack cost $750,000. By comparison, the average house price in Ottawa is $360,000.

64 Yurt alors: Ottawa doled out $354,000 to build 19 yurts and teepees at a new glamping (glamour camping) park in Debiens, Que.

65 Howling mad: Ottawa gave $1.5 million to Parc Safari zoo in Hemmingford, Que., in part to build a “wolf observation tunnel.”

66 Time warped: The City of Hamilton spent $500,000 to recreate a tiered landscape design in Battlefield Park that dates back to the 1920s. To turn back the clock, city workers chopped down several trees in some places, and planted new trees in others.

67 Grounded: Calgary spent $800,000 to rebuild two Second World War aircraft that have sat disassembled in storage for decades.

68Get away: Ottawa spent $455,000 to build an RV park in Grand Marais, Man.

69 Toronto spent $50,000 on yet another plan to overhaul the city’s port lands, this one including a doomed proposal to build the world’s biggest Ferris wheel

70 a glut of conference centres in North America didn’t stop the feds from giving Thunder Bay $250,000 to plan for yet another in the northern Ontario city.

71 A federal agency coughed up $120,500 to improve a marina in Clarenville, Nfld., with just 40 slips

72 Another federal agency spent $1 million to modernize a municipal campground in Péribonka, Que., creating eight jobs—at $130,000 a pop.

73 Ottawa paid $160,000 to build four eco-tourism cabins in Gaspé, Que., at Chalets du bout du monde Inc., loosely translated as “the ends of the earth chalets.”

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99 stupid things the government spent your money on (IV)

  1. If a government is not held accountable for it’s spending this type of thing will never end. It also allows for corruption.

    • So helping people get rid of unwanted graffiti painted on their walls is a bad thing?
      May I ask your address?

  2. To be fair, ”
    Chalets du bout du monde” more closely resembles the chalets at the end of the earth… not that Gaspé is anywhere near the end of the earth.

  3. I thought that when I finally got to the Snoop Dogg example I’d stop thinking that this whole line of articles is a petty and silly waste of time.

    Turns out, not so much.

    It’s pretty clear that the reason nothing on these lists has a link to any context is that if we read about the context we’d all realize instantly that the vast majority of these examples don’t live up to the hype of this piece’s premise.

    • Comments in previous articles have provided some context, often by people and groups receiving the money, which shows that some funding targets are not as “stupid” as this article makes them out to be.


    • Like car tunnel art? No, the majority of these don’t pass the “Does it make life better for Canadians?” sniff test. If it smells like political pork it probably is.

      • Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that none of these items are wasteful spending, but I’m not convinced that all of them are, and more importantly, the article gives almost no context to enable me to make such a judgement. Many of these items are examples of “spending money to make money” and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to judge the effectiveness of such a program if I’m told what staging an event cost, but not how much money said event brought in.

  4. Dear MacLean’s:  RE #70:
    as Thunder Bay is the only, and largest, city between the Manitoba border and the next-largest Northern hub, which is Sault Ste Marie and nearly 10 hours’ drive-time away, it actually makes sense for the government to support the development of a conference hub where members of the various surrounding and isolated communities and First Nations can gather. 

    While I appreciate the humour involved in this piece it seems more sensationalist than useful.  The fact that you didn’t look at a map before deciding it was inappropriate to support a single – and what would be the first – conference centre in an enormous geographical area damages your credibility and makes me wonder how many of the residents of other cities mentioned in your 99 smartass points, who have a better understanding of the things you’re criticizing, would object to what you’ve said here and provide evidence that the funding decisions weren’t actually as way out as you’d have us believe. 

    If you’re going to put down the government please make sure you actually do your homework first, otherwise you’re just another ignorant crank with an axe to grind.

    • Rent a vacant gym and set up a bunch of six foot folding tables. For perks, place a jug of water on each table.

      There is your conference center.

      Can you just imagine either:

      a. how much lower our taxes could be,

      b. how much more of our hard earned money could look after health care and the seniors who carved this country out of the bedrock,

      if we just stopped handing out money to build gay& lesbian motorcycle clubhouses, or to for profit businesses, which is even more mind boggling.

      Self entitled people [and the government] have got to stop believing they are entitled to entitlements and get back to basics.

      Then, give the tax payer back their surpluses taxes.

      • Rent a vacant gym and set up a bunch of six foot folding tables. For perks, place a jug of water on each table.
        a good thought, +100500


  5. Tasers and torture are always a waste of money.   So are courts that obstruct innocent victims from justice, after torturing them so they are disabled, unable to work, and unable to pay income tax.

  6. I just lost a lot of respect for macleans magazine. As a rural developer, I sought out the money for a couple of these projects and am extremely insulted. Never picking up your magazine again.

    • With you 100% ! I would like to see you come down to the gaspe and see just how hard communities work to get something going…!Maybe,just maybe if you editors or whatever you call yourselves would get out of your offices and actually live a bluegrass festival or stay in a chalet, you would all realize just how much theese grants mean to us gaspesians.One thing is for shure, there will be no magazinnes of yours on display anywhere near the places that theese “wastes of money” , like you call them, have went to! Very insulting !

      • I would suggest that ‘Gaspesians’ learn to fend for themselves and stop relying on the ole small-corporate welfare to prop up your privately owned, for profit business. If you cannot survive without my tax dollors propping up your enterprise, perhaps you need to find another line of work. The examples mentioned do not required further clarification; It is quite obvious that small, medium, large and multinational business interests have become dependant on the public teat.

        • Oleinfidel, it is very unfortunate that you think too small.  There is not one business out there that is not funded in some way shape or form by the government, either through tax breaks, low interest loans, grants or ripple effects from someones elses grants, and tax breaks.  Local businesses thrived from the thousands of people that the Bluegrass festival brought into the area of New Richmond.  Perhaps the government did not give $10 000 to the local convenient store, but the government did the promoting to bring in enough consumers that the local convenient store could not keep stock on the shelves.  They also had to hire extra organizers for the event, so there was job creation. Perhaps even some of the local business had to hire extra hands for the summer months because of the tourism these events brought in.  By the way, the chalets are sold out all year, and I am pretty sure when you reserve a night in that chalet, there are taxes on it.   And don’t look now, but the people that were hired, paid taxes on their salaries.  The store sold its goods with taxes on them.  And the ripple effect of $83 000 brought in close to a million dollars worth of revenues and secondary incomes for a region that has been descimated by companies pulling up and leaving the region to go to other areas of the world where they were heavily goverment funded.  So I hate to pee on your pescimism, but when the government shovels a few bucks into something like that, its called INVESTMENT and not government hand out.

  7. whens the vote held to fire all of them?

  8. Well, seems governments aren’t the only stupid spenders. As a life long reader of Macleans and a subscription that is good for a few more years, I just got a 2nd copy of the above magazine begging me to subscribe as if I had never read it and wasn’t already on your mailing list! I would think computer programs could rapidly sort out who to mail it too and who not in this day and age. Could save a lot of money and lower your subscription rate or pay your executives more!

  9. The $83,000 grant to the New Richmond Bluegrass Festival was to promote the festival outside of Quebec and is part of a program which is available across Canada. The funding is spread out over three years (not a single year as would seem to be indicated in the article).
    The funding received in the first two years of the agreement helped increase attendance at the event by almost 40%, with roughly half of attendees coming from outside the province and staying between 4 and 7 days in the area.
    The economic impact is important, in particular for an area where unemplyment and poverty levels are high.
    The money spent by these tourists helps create jobs and stimulate the local (and regional) economy and generates tax revenues.
    While not everyone agrees with all (or any) of the mentioned spending, and no one can deny that some government contributions may not be great investments, most do contribute to economic and social developement and many people who are the first to complain about one program are also among the first to benefit from another.

  10. Should you really be throwing stones when you’re living in a glass house?

    A quick search finds the following funding given to Macleans Magazine:

    $1,500,000 in 2011-12 (http://www.pch.gc.ca/eng/1321969859505/1321970115184)

    $1,500,000 in 2010-11(http://www.pch.gc.ca/eng/1283974447909/1314997133457)

    $390,156 in 2009-10 (http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/fcm-cmf/list0910-eng.cfm)

    Another $3,042,567 in 2009-10 (http://www.pch.gc.ca/pap/publctn/report-rapport/ann-rep2010/index-eng.cfm)

    $2,5559,365 in 2008-09 (http://www.pch.gc.ca/pap/publctn/report-rapport/ann-rep2009/index-eng.cfm)
    Another $393,053 in 2008-09 (http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/fcm-cmf/list0809-eng.cfm)

    $396,389 in 2007-08 (http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/fcm-cmf/list0708-eng.cfm)

    $421,420 in 2006-07 (http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/fcm-cmf/list0607-eng.cfm)

    $422,252 in 2005-06 (http://www.pch.gc.ca/pc-ch/org/sectr/ac-ca/pblctns/anl-rpt/2005-2006/8-eng.cfm)

    I’m sure there are more – took me 5 minutes to find these!

  11. I think we could use some of that money to improve the trans canada highway across northern ontairofrom arnprior to the manitoba boarder as its a long strech of killer road.

  12. ottawa is a terrible city and all the money ottawa spend on this article are for different cities in canada and not ottawa

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