Federal workers rewarded with spa visits, jewelry, iPods, gift cards


OTTAWA – Gold necklaces, hockey tickets, camcorders, iPods, spa visits — even a gift card to the liquor store.

This is some of the half-million dollars of booty that one federal department handed out to favoured workers in the last five years.

The Treasury Board Secretariat, with about 1,900 employees, now spends well over $100,000 each year on rewards for staff.

The annual value has quadrupled since 2006, when the Conservative government first came to power.

The value hit a peak of $135,000 in 2011, the year the Conservative government began cutting staff and programs to wipe out the federal deficit by 2015.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement has recently criticized the benefits available to public servants, and publicly vowed to trim them, putting him at odds with unions.

But internal documents show his department has been ever more generous with its so-called “Instant Awards” program, sometimes handing out goods and services worth as much as $500 a pop.

The haul includes a Sears sewing machine, a notebook computer, a Tiffany ring, a Garmin GPS device, along with a wide range of cash cards for spas, restaurants, gas stations, pubs, Toys R Us, Canadian Tire, Shoppers Drug Mart, Tim Hortons and Starbucks.

The cheapest employee rewards have been $10 gift cards for coffee shops or for a bowling alley. One worker was handed a French grammar book worth $14.65, which to some may sound more like a punishment than a reward.

At the high end, many employees were given $500 gift cards for use at Best Buy, for example, or at the downtown Rideau Centre mall for merchandise in most of the shops.

One worker in the “expenditure management sector” got a $50 gift card for use at any Liquor Control Board of Ontario retail outlet.

The internal documents, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, list the names of the workers but do not spell out the reasons for the hundreds of awards.

Such awards are considered taxable benefits under Canada Revenue Agency rules, and are often listed under both their “gross” value, reported to the taxman, and the “net” value in the hands of the worker.

A $10 gift certificate to Second Cup, for example, is listed as worth $14.29 gross, as reported to CRA. The difference is the tax the employee is expected to pay on the benefit, tax that is paid out by the department.

Awards programs have a cap of $500 net for each item or cash card.

Controversy over employee awards arose a year ago, when a New Democrat MP asked several departments whether they had purchased tickets for sporting events.

Clement’s response was that Treasury Board had bought four employees $1,109 worth of NHL tickets to Senators’ games between 2009 and 2011.

The minister banned purchases of sporting-event tickets soon after the NDP made the information public.

The Foreign Affairs Department also banned such purchases when it was revealed officials had spent $69,498 on hockey and baseball tickets at U.S. missions between 2006 and 2012, largely to promote Canadian exports.

Federal policy encourages rewards for employees’ good work, but notes that “recognition often has no cost involved.”

“Informal and no-cost recognition — it takes a minute,” says a human-resources document on the Treasury Board website.

“Write a Bravo card — leaving a card on the employee’s desk just to say ‘Bravo, job well done’. … Stick a post-it-note saying ‘Thanks’ on the employee’s workspace.”

Most departments and agencies have employee recognition programs, many with an “Instant Awards” element, a management tool authorized across government in 1990.

One internal survey showed managers prefer “Instant Awards” programs because they’re easy to administer and less expensive than more formal awards.

The Treasury Board, which is responsible for government-wide policies on access to information, delivered the “Instant Awards” documents more than two months after expiry of the statutory deadline set by the Access to Information Act.

A department spokeswoman did not respond to a request last week for comment and information.


Total value of “Instant Awards” given to workers at the Treasury Board Secretariat, by calendar year:

2006: $24,515.42

2007: $34,625.70

2008: $68,548.24

2009: $90,646.60

2010: $112,176.90

2011: $134,822.01

2012: $110,293.84

(Source: Treasury Board of Canada)


Federal workers rewarded with spa visits, jewelry, iPods, gift cards

  1. oh to work for the government

  2. “The annual value has quadrupled since 2006, when the Conservative government first came to power.”

    this couldn’t be the same government that espoused Fiscal Responsibility as part of its election platform.

    Jim Flaherty’s motto: “do as I say, not as I do”.

  3. There are two types of people in Canada; the parasites and the host.
    It won’t end well.

  4. Just small perks folks….let’s not go nuts. Funny it’s the Cons though. LOL

    • Small perks? A $500 gift card would go an extremely long way for a lot of people….

      • If they had a decent job, they’d get a perk. This is why education is important.

  5. Bribing the Fed workers with some perks while trimming the staff … keep it classy Feds

  6. One always knows when the economy is taking a dive, the main stream media anti-government worker articles start to come out!!!

  7. What are they doing to earn these ‘awards’? Their (gasp) jobs?

  8. Hahaha! Get a grip people! In the private sector there are Christmas bonuses. There are no Christmas bonuses when you work for the government. There are, however, long service awards. For 35 years as an employee, you get a $500.00 Best Buy card. Sometimes if you come up with a great idea that saves big money, they reward you…for instance a health care phone in advice line (how much do you think that saves taxpayers vs. unnecessary trips to the ER). The government employee that suggested that might have gotten a $500.00 Best Buy Card for suggesting a service that is saving taxpayers at least tens of thousands of dollars per year.

    • Not everyone in the private sector gets a Christmas bonus, also it can be difficult to get a long service award if the place you work for closes, public service does not have that concern

      • tell that to the people who used to monitor the ozone layer over Canada. or the people that used to measure statistics related to aboriginal peoples.

        I figure let the managers who are doing the day to day run their depts as they see fit.

      • Don’t whine too much jonny thunder. The government department where I work got rid of our long service awards as well. They also asked us to snitch on one another and report anybody who was saying “bad things about the company as that was grounds for dismissal.” Perhaps not too surprisingly, “the company” had an employee satisfaction rating of 25% when the employer was shooting for 85% approval. You reap what you sew jonny….you sew malcontent and reap dissatisfaction.

        • No whining here… You on the other jand

          • There is a global nursing shortage jonny. If they want nurses, they should follow the honey v. vinegar adage. No one goes into a profession to be treated badly.

  9. Apparently I work for the wrong federal department. A turkey at Christmas…nope. We don’t even get free coffee at meetings!

    • Any reason you should?

      • How would you feel about them charging your coworkers for coffee you donated jonny?

        • Well i wouldnt care for that. But since that wasnt mentioned in the original post i replied to not sure why your reply was needed

          • I wanted to give a little insight jonny into how really great it is (not) working for the government and some of the things they actually do to us valued employees to show us just how much they care. This article is giving a distorted picture that there are a lot of perks. I have worked for municipal and provincial governments my whole career. I have family who have worked for the federal government. The perks do not exist unless you are coming up with some great ideas or fulfilling some quota system. The question I asked you about the coffee though, I asked it, because that did happen.

  10. According to Mr Flaherty, it is not the time to raise the CPP – no funds available – I beg your pardon???

  11. Wow. That is pretty atypical of most government departments. Clement is out of control. What incentives do those workers have to meet to receive such bonuses? Throw X number of workers off short-term EI? File off Tony’s corns? Discharge a certain number of injured military personnel a couple of weeks before they become eligible for full pensions?

    • My guess is there is some kind of quota system in place to earn the prizes.

  12. more than three times the median income on swag for fed’s. At this point im not surprised anymore.

  13. People — There are 1,900 employees in the department, so about $5 per employee per month is being spent on these. That bonus structure is too high for you? I hate government waste as much as the next person, but this drama is a bit much.

Sign in to comment.