Every year for the past 14, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) has handed out Teddy awards to the worst examples of wasteful spending by federal, provincial and municipal governments.
This year, they also gave a lifetime achievement award to former Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe because of his decades-long commitment to outrageous federal spending and because he has managed to earn a federal pension of nearly $141,000 a year, despite having spent his career trying to break up the country.
The Teddies are named for Ted Weatherill, a former federal bureaucrat dismissed in 1998 for his lavish expenses.
Among the blatant waste found by the federation this year is a committee of the Alberta Legislature – the Standing Committee on Privileges, Elections, Standing Orders and Printing – that has 21 members (one-quarter of the 83 MLAs), each of whom is paid an extra $1,000 a month, but which has not met in over three years.
There are City of Montreal snowplows that drive around blading city streets even when there is no snow and a $284-million federal incentive program aimed at getting tobacco farmers to quit the business that was so lucrative it managed to double the number of tobacco growers in Canada in a single year as farmers got into the business just so they could be paid to get out again.
The City of St. Albert in Alberta decided, largely in secret, to spend $280,000 in ratepayers dollars to acquire a Starbucks franchise for a municipal hockey and sports complex that already had a private coffee shop and smoothie bar. Meanwhile, the National Capital Commission spend $5.2 million on seven temporary warming huts along the length of the skating rink on the Rideau Canal for a skating season that seldom lasts longer than six to eight weeks. The NCC’s explanation? The world’s longest skating rink is “iconic,” so therefore deserved the $750,000-a-pop huts.
At about the same time as the CTF was awarding its golden piglets for Teddy winners, across town in Ottawa federal Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Mario Dion was announcing that after five years in existence, his office had finally managed to identify its first and only public service fraudster.
According to a report tabled in Parliament, a regional manager at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada used public funds to purchase several personal items, including two HD TVs for her home from a business in which she had a financial interest.
She had also purchased massage chairs, taken a government printer and office furniture for use in a fitness studio she owned and used a government vehicle almost exclusively for personal driving. Mr. Dion concluded, “I have determined that the breadth, severity and frequency of the manager’s wrongdoing constitute gross mismanagement.” D-uh. Do you really think so?
But despite Mr. Dion’s crowing about finally finding a corrupt federal official after having failed to do so for half a decade, he then refused to name her, saying he didn’t need to disclose her identity in order to fully describe her wrongdoing. Moreover, because the woman was no longer with the public service, he was unable to take action against her.
But what about the need to protect taxpayers, Mr. Dion? If there is no naming (and therefore no shaming) and if your office is unwilling to press charges against this woman or even sue her to recover the cost of goods and services she stole or misused, what is the point of having your office in the first place? It’s taken you five years to come up with even a single example of abuse of taxpayers’ money and even then you are too timid to identify the fraudster or make any effort to have her punished.
So here’s a two-pronged suggestion: Next year the CTF should think of awarding a Teddy to Mr. Dion and his largely useless office. But before that, if Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is truly serious about slicing billions from Ottawa’s bloated spending in his March 29 budget, he should think about axing the office of the integrity commissioner.