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

Luxury hotel stays, iPad giveaways, and gold-embossed business cards


We’ve previously brought you items 1-18, on subsidies and infrastructure, 19-34, on food and job creation, followed by 35-55, the environment, animals, and money for nothing, and 56-73, culture and tourism. Here’s the wrap-up, a sample of questionable spending on employee expenses, patronage, makeovers, studies, polls and surveys as well as lawsuits and lawyers.

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.

CASHING IN — The benefits of working for the taxpayer

74 Golf gaffe: A Richmond Hill, Ont., councillor claimed $1,200 in expenses for new golf clubs, shoes and a bag. Carmine Perrelli said he gets invited to a lot of charity tournaments and that by getting taxpayers to buy him new equipment, he actually saved them money on rentals. He also said the gear remains the property of the city. Who wouldn’t want a pair of old golf shoes?

75 Ferry froth: David Hahn spent eight years at the helm of BC Ferries, a taxpayer funded corporation. During his tenure, the B.C. government doubled his annual salary from $500,000 to $1 million. In September, at 61, Hahn retired, bowing to pressure to step down before he turned 62, when his pension would have grown to a dizzying $314,000. He’ll still retire after less than a decade of work with an annual pension of $77,000.

76 Holy gravy: A Toronto city councillor charged taxpayers $300 to have his office blessed by a Baptist pastor.

77 Charged bonuses: BC Hydro hit its financial targets last year, prompting the public utility to give an eyebrow-raising 99 per cent of its employees a performance bonus. But an internal memo revealed BC Hydro hit its yearly numbers by raising electricity rates and using some nimble accounting to defer debt payments. It also raises the question: how bad did the one per cent have to be at their jobs to not qualify for a bonus?

78 Think different: Provincial governments are gaga for Apple products. In 2010, Alberta paid $276,000 to buy 1,400 iPod Touch devices to give away during the Winter Games, while B.C. taxpayers have spent roughly $250,000 to outfit senior government officials with 268 iPads.

79 Five-star minister: It emerged in December that Defence Minister Peter MacKay spent $2,904 last year for a two-night stay at Munich’s Bayerischer Hof, a lavish hotel where Bavaria’s King Ludwig I used to take royal baths. MacKay’s lowly staffers slummed it eight minutes away at the Hilton for $239 a night.

80 Speaking of MacKay, his controversial airlift from a personal fishing trip to the airport in Gander, Nfld., cost $16,000.

81 In the three months before he was found guilty of fraud and breach of trust in March, then-senator Raymond Lavigne was allowed to expense more than $32,000.

82 The feds created a job for Cecil Clarke, a Tory candidate defeated in last year’s election, and gave him a salary of $133,000.

83 13 members of former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s inner circle walked away with $2.4 million in severance payments.

84 Bruce Carson, the disgraced former adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, claimed $28,000 in personal expenses to a federally funded think tank in Calgary in one month alone.

MAKEOVERS — What government will do to make itself look good

85 Paranoia will cost you: The City of Montreal has spent nearly $537,000 since 2008 spying on its own employees. It’s not clear which employees were being watched, but early last year Montreal auditor general Jacques Bergeron, who has regularly criticized city officials, filed a lawsuit against municipal employees who hacked into his email.

86 Banner event: Following the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, the Department of Foreign Affairs spent $26,500 on banners using Conservative party colours for a ministerial conference on the crisis. As reports noted, that sum is roughly 39 times Haiti’s per capita gross national product.

87 Brand bust: Two years ago, the government of Alberta spent close to $4 million to come up with a new slogan: “Alberta. Freedom to Create. Spirit to Achieve.” When Alison Redford became premier last year she scrapped the expensive, meaningless mouthful.

88 Commercial break: In the months leading up to the 2011 federal election, the Conservative government spent $26 million of public money advertising the Economic Action Plan stimulus program.

89 Golden Baird: Ottawa spent $424 for special gold-embossed business cards for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird last year.

90 It was revealed the Harper government paid $2 million to spruce up Deerhurst Resort for the G8 meeting in June 2010, including $1,600 to move a bed and $3,500 to adjust light fixtures.

91 Ottawa also spent $1.9 million to monitor what media said about it in 2010.

SURVEY SAYS — Studies, polls and research on the public dime

92 Double trouble: The federal Finance Department and Privy Council Office separately paid Ipsos Reid a total of $200,000 for two focus-group surveys that both concluded: “Generally speaking, participants were not looking for a quick fix to Canada’s budgetary deficit.”

93 Gotta run: The Public Health Agency of Canada plans to spend $55,000 to study how to combat Montezuma’s revenge—otherwise known as traveller’s diarrhea—in the Caribbean.

94 Pipe down: Barrie, Ont., spent $118,000 in preparation for a ban on commuter train whistles at railway crossings after 500 residents complained of the noise. Among the steps taken: $10,000 for a “whistle cessation study.” The city also assumed full liability for any future crossing accidents involving the silent trains.

95 A little advice: The federal government paid consultants $19.8 million, or $90,000 a day, to suggest ways to trim budgets. Here’s betting “overpriced outside advice” doesn’t end up on their list of recommended cuts.

THE PAY SCALES OF JUSTICE — Spending on lawyers and judges

96 A real Thriller: Last January, the City of Summerside, P.E.I., filed a lawsuit against an American concert promoter over a worldwide Michael Jackson tribute concert that officials thought was going to kick off in their little town. The city wired $1.3 million in two separate payments to the promoter between 2009 and 2010 after they were allegedly promised that Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake and Usher were lined up to perform in Summerside.

97 Holy unreasonable: The City of Calgary spent more than $65,000 fighting a controversial street preacher in court over a $100 bylaw fine.

98 Guilty fees: A November report called the B.C. government’s decision in late 2010 to cover $6 million in legal fees for Dave Basi and Bob Virk—two former political aides who pleaded guilty to charges of corruption—“highly unusual.”

99 Retreating judges: Ontario judges and justices of the peace spent close to $600,000 for three conferences at the Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka.

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

  1. Living in Barrie and paying taxes in Barrie, and having to listen to a number of train whistles each morning, I congratulate the political process. Politicians listened…now I don’t hear the whistles  The costs incurred included safety barriers for possible errant pedestrians and I believe in the long run will reduce the liability insurance costs for the city of Barrie.

    • So you saved on the cost of your property by choosing to live so close to the rails, and now they’ve spent thousands of dollars to make the area less safe? You should be proud.

      • In defense, the trainline was resurrected after sitting silent for a decade.

  2. After reading this BS one can only conclude: Cheating the taxman at every possible opportunity is sheer self-defense

  3. While some of the entries are no doubt of legitimate concern, the list would probably have been better if it was half the size and the cases where the authors are reaching were removed.  Some of the easy pickings:

    74. If he was an avid golfer this would be questionable, but this rather sounds like the only reason he’s golfing at all is because of his position – if this is the individual’s only questionable expense it’s probably within reason.

    77. Not an unusual practice to have a company wide bonus attached to a performance target – and one possible reason for the people who didn’t receive a bonus: people who hadn’t worked there long enough yet.

    78. Not seeing the scandal at all.

    79. Been addressed before, the conference was being held in the luxury hotel, it would’ve been silly for the minister not to have stayed there.

    93. Not a lot to spend on a study.

    95. How many consultants and what level of cuts?  As much fun as it is to play with the ‘irony’ here, if this is 200 full time consultants for a year spread across all government departments, $100k each is not an unreasonable price and presumably they’re expected to trim much more expenses than they’re being paid.

    99. Conferences on what?  How many attendees?  $200k for a conference doesn’t sound that bad necessarily.

    • You’re making excuses for insane spending. 

      74. Private businesses can’t claim golf expenses on their taxes, why does he get to? Why doesn’t he pony up and buy the stuff himself, as he’ll probably use it after his tenure in office. Especially golf shoes and apparel.
      77. They raised the cost for customers, and then gave bonuses to staff in a time where public workers like teachers and bus drivers and union leaders are taking a pay cut. How about no bonuses for anyone, since apparently it wasn’t based on hard work or merit, and don’t charge people as much?
      78. Buy your own iPad. Your kids are going to end up breaking it on a long car ride anyways.
      79. Why can the aids move 8 minutes down the road but he can’t? Why could he not spend one night there even, instead of both?
      93. It’s not the cost of the study, but rather that we already know all we’re going to know about diarrhea. We have over-the-counter pills for it. Take them and don’t drink the water.
      95. Why on earth did 40% of those who voted vote for who they thought was an experienced and thoughtful economist, when he just contracted the reason he was brought in? Why did it have to cost 19.8 million? Couldn’t we have not spent that, and called it savings?
      99. Italian weddings cost less than this. There is no reason a conference should cost even $200,000. Maybe get the second best caterer instead of the very best, use the center’s own linens… I can’t even imagine where the rest of the money went. 

      The government doesn’t even try to get the lowest price. They go with someone who is a friend of a friend or so-and-so’s brother and give them whatever they want. Examples include LCBO wholesale prices and how Harper didn’t comparison shop for the construction of the jets he/we purchased, he just gave the contract to someone somewhere in his network.

    • you’re a spy. you work for them don’t you. you get to go on the conferences and I bet you have the ipad in your hands.

  4. Wow… I just calculated how many semesters of school all those expenses would have afforded… Well we can always dream :(

  5. Yet people are waiting 3 months to get their EI payments. Way to go!

  6. 76 Holy gravy: A Toronto city councillor charged taxpayers $300 to have his office blessed by a Baptist pastor

    If he were to call in Ghostbusters, it would have cost the city about $5000 (well, in 1984 dollars, so whats that with inflation?) So thank you councillor for SAVING the taxpayer some money!

  7. Hey!!
    Why does everyone pick on LARD!
    #20 discuss Dunsters doughnuts made with Lard. Lard is not evil.  It is way better for you than Doughnut made out Transfat laden Vegetable shortening like most distributors.  If you have an issue with doughnuts, fine, a diet consisting of half a dozen a day is never good.  Just stop bashing Lard, it has had a rough half century.

  8. $4 million to come up with a slogan? Lol they could of done that for pretty much nothing by asking people to send in ideas. With a lot better ones than what they came up with.
    It’s just excuses for what they’re really spending money on. Classified shit we’re not supposed to know about. $1,600 to move a bed? Ha. Are you guys really that stupid?

  9. Who are the retards that votedfor the pro-roguer?

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