By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, May 9, 2013 - 0 Comments
Conservative backbenchers might wonder why their names are included in the government’s media monitoring—the Privy Council Office says it’s merely about searching widely—but they could also ask whether $23 million over two years to monitor public media reports is a reasonable and defensible use of public funds.
By The Canadian Press - Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 9:42 PM - 0 Comments
HALIFAX – A former Nova Scotia cabinet minister says he didn’t personally benefit from…
HALIFAX – A former Nova Scotia cabinet minister says he didn’t personally benefit from expense claims and is denying allegations made at his fraud trial that he gave a constituency worker a bonus if she agreed to buy his car.
Russell MacKinnon told his trial Thursday that he gave Nicole Campbell more money because she was underpaid for her secretarial duties at his Sydney River constituency office from January 2005 to June 2006.
“What I was doing was topping her up because she was earning considerably less than assistants on the mainland,” MacKinnon told the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in Halifax.
MacKinnon, 59, said he wanted to top up Campbell’s salary because she was only making $12 an hour and was under “considerable financial stress” at the time. Constituency assistants elsewhere in the province, he said, were making between $20 and $25 an hour.
In her testimony earlier this week, Campbell said she was offered a $3,000 bonus in October 2005 to buy MacKinnon’s mid-1990s Dodge Intrepid.
MacKinnon said Campbell was having troubles with her vehicle at the time and she approached him about the possibility of buying his car.
“My understanding was that she wanted me to put her top-ups in her constituency account until such time as she decided to buy the vehicle.”
MacKinnon said the increases to Campbell’s salary were reflected in receipts filed with the Speaker’s Office in the fall of 2005.
He also denied Campbell’s testimony that he had her sign blank expense receipts before they were submitted.
“No, never,” he said.
Cheques were later issued to pay Campbell, including $2,000 in cash left in an envelope at the constituency office, MacKinnon said.
But in 2010, the $2,000 in cash was returned to him in a box of documents by a man who had bought a cottage from MacKinnon, the court heard. MacKinnon said some of his papers from his constituency office were stored at the cottage after he left politics in 2006.
MacKinnon said he went to Campbell’s house on July 24, 2010, and paid her the $2,000 in cash along with another cheque for $400 that he said was for an overpayment she made when she bought his car in 2005.
When asked whether he ever personally benefited from any of the transactions, MacKinnon replied, “No. In fact, I lost.”
Earlier in the day, George MacKeigan, who worked as an executive assistant for MacKinnon from May to August 2006, testified as a Crown witness. MacKeigan said he was asked to sign three blank receipts that were submitted to the Speaker’s Office by MacKinnon.
When asked by Crown lawyer Mark Heerema why he signed the blank receipts, MacKeigan said it wasn’t a problem for him.
“Me and Mr. MacKinnon had a good relationship. I trusted him and I figured he would fill out what he needed to.”
Heerema said the three receipts totalled $9,900 for vacation pay and work at the Sydney River constituency office that included moving furniture and the packing and shredding of documents.
MacKeigan said he never got the money, but received a tax form in May 2010 informing him that he owed the provincial government for income he didn’t claim in 2006.
He said after the RCMP interviewed him about the expense claims in June 2010, MacKinnon sent him two letters with cheques totalling $9,900.
MacKinnon has pleaded not guilty to fraud, breach of trust and uttering forged documents.
He is one of four politicians charged in February 2011 following an investigation by the province’s auditor general into constituency allowance spending. He is the first to contest the charges.
Two of the three other politicians charged have been sentenced.
Former Liberal Dave Wilson was sentenced last April after admitting to defrauding the public purse of nearly $61,000. He was released from custody in August after serving four months of a nine-month sentence.
Richard Hurlburt, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, was sentenced last July to a year of house arrest after pleading guilty to charges of fraud and breach of trust.
Independent member Trevor Zinck is charged with theft over $5,000, fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust. He is to go to trial in June.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said MacKeigan owed the government for income he didn’t claim in 2010.
By Erica Alini - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 12:51 PM - 0 Comments
What just happened
Predictably, America seems set to avoid yet another manufactured fiscal crisis.
House Republicans introduced legislation (read the full text here) on Monday that would suspend the debt ceiling until May 19.
The bill is somewhat unusual in that, unlike similar legislation in the past, it does not raise the borrowing limit but waives the cap entirely until the set date in May. As Politico explains, this was fine political maneuvering on the part of Republican lawmakers, who thus avoided agreeing to a “specific dollar amount that could be used against them in campaign ads.”
The draft legislation also contains a provision that would withhold pay for members of Congress unless they pass a budget by April 15 (it is a feat that has eluded the U.S. Senate in the past). The GOP is branding this as a “no budget, no pay” measure, although, in fact, it simply delays paying members of Congress until the end of 2014 at the latest.
The prospect of a likely deal on the borrowing cap spurred a series of bullish bets in financial markets, and U.S. observers around the world are drawing a big sigh of relief.
Rewind: a bit of background on the debt ceiling
What the House Republicans’ bill will likely avoid isn’t so much a full-blown default but a technical default. As Keith Hennessey, who was White House National Economic Council Director under former President George W. Bush, argued last week, a scenario in which the U.S. government would fail to pay bond-holders on time (which would without question trigger a credit rating downgrade and increase America’s borrowing costs, not to mention cause utter panic in financial markets) was never really in the cards.
By Jason Kirby, Tamsin McMahon, Rosemary Westwood, Nick Taylor-Vaisey, and Mika Rekai - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 10:38 AM - 0 Comments
Expensive OJ, sausage research and a report on ‘hi’ in Quebec
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.
Here are 34 to 66 stupid things on our second annual list of waste that shows spending by all levels of government is still way out of control. Check us out tomorrow to see the last 33 stupid things your government did with your money. (And find 1 to 33 right here.) Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 1:07 PM - 0 Comments
Ironically, I received infinitely more media attention in the last 72 hours than I did in the last 6 months. Admittedly, this was quite unexpected. Normally, my musings on this little blog attract a very limited audience. Although, I stand by my comments, I think they received more attention than was warranted. I suppose it is newsworthy when a government backbencher is seen to be critical of the Ministry. However, it should be axiomatic that government treat taxpayers’ money respectfully. This is so especially in times of fiscal restraint; pointing out the obvious shouldn’t be newsworthy at all!!
He also defends the budget bill.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 8:49 AM - 0 Comments
“I see the role of a backbench MP to hold the government to account,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that I’m disloyal or that I’m a maverick or that I’m going to vote against the government or cross the floor. It just means that from time to time I feel an obligation to point out to the government that they need to respect the taxpayers’ dollars.”
For reaction, the Canadian Press talks to Conservative MP Rick Dykstra.
Ontario Tory MP Rick Dykstra said he, too, has received an earful about Oda’s spending and cabinet cars. But he said the budget is prompting questions as well and not the kind he’s used to hearing. Ever since he’s been back in his St. Catharines, Ont., riding, Dykstra said he’s received a “boatload” of queries on the marathon voting session in the Commons earlier this month, when MPs voted continuously for almost 24 hours on hundreds of opposition amendments to the budget bill. “It’s very rare when I get constituents actually talking to me about what’s happened in the House of Commons, actually in the House itself,” Dykstra said.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 12:37 PM - 0 Comments
The Cabinet Minister Limousine Service represents one of the most egregious displays of Ottawa opulence. Every Minister is entitled to a vehicle and a driver. For security reasons, I do not take issue with Ministers being chauffeured to events around the Nation’s Capital. But there is little justification for Ministers being driven around the Parliamentary Precincts, especially when the House of Commons also operates a continuous Shuttle Bus Service for MP’s and all Parliamentary Staff.
But the worst waste of taxpayer money involves the 6,548 hours of standby service limo drivers recorded in 2011. The House of Commons frequently sits until late at night and if votes are being recorded, conceivably more than 30 limousines complete with drivers, will be parked outside Center Block for hours; the whole time overtime being charged for this standby “service”.
Surely there is a more cost effective method of getting Cabinet Ministers to and from meetings. Surely, as government preaches fiscal discipline such extravagance must be eliminated. Surely, having limo drivers on standby for hours is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Surely, there are taxis available in Ottawa.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 11:30 AM - 0 Comments
CTV tabulates the bills for ministerial transportation.
The analysis reveals that the drivers who serve the Public Works and Government Services Minister Rona Ambrose accumulated the most overtime: more than 1,000 hours costing taxpayers $40,074.
Records show that Tony Clement, then Industry Minister, had a driver on standby for more than 360 days that year. The driver charged taxpayers to be on “standby” for Clement virtually every hour outside of his regular shift — 16 hours every weekday and 24 hours on weekends to a total of 6,548 hours in 2010/11. (Standby hours are paid out at 0.5 hours for every four hours on standby).
The hero of fiscal prudence turns out to be Gary Lunn, who, while a minister, apparently opted to walk. This is even more impressive when one considers that, as a relatively shorter person, Mr. Lunn conceivably requires more steps to cover the same amount of ground.
Update 3:47pm. A note from Ms. Ambrose’s office explains that the minister’s driver has recently been classified as exempt staff and no longer receives overtime.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 23, 2012 at 10:22 AM - 0 Comments
If you’re planning a trip to London, International Development Minister Bev Oda has some tips.
Oda was originally supposed to stay at the Grange St. Paul’s Hotel, site of the conference on international immunizations she was attending. Instead, she had staff rebook her into the posh Savoy overlooking the Thames, an old favourite of royalty and currently owned by Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia…
The bill for three nights at the Savoy last June set back taxpayers $1,995, or $665 a night. The government still had to pay for a night at the hotel she rejected, costing an additional $287. An orange juice Oda expensed from the Savoy cost $16.
Today’s math problem: If the government cancelled the F-35 purchase and reallocated that money to the ministerial travel budget, how many more nights at the Savoy could the Harper government afford?
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 20, 2012 at 5:46 PM - 0 Comments
Earlier today the Canadian Press reported that the Defence Department was looking to purchase 20,000 stress balls. In other news, the Defence Department is no longer looking to purchase 20,000 stress balls.
“As soon as Minister MacKay was made aware of this contract, he instructed officials to immediately cancel this unnecessary expense of taxpayer money,” the minister’s spokesman, Jay Paxton, said in an email.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 10:35 AM - 0 Comments
The Prime Minister raised the issue of MP pensions in his interview with the CBC earlier this week, but, as the Finance Minister has noted, it is beyond the official purview of the government. Today the Globe reports that support for the reforms will come from the Conservative caucus. Tony Clement meanwhile muses of leading by example.
“I think you’ve got to be fair to the employee [the MP] but you also have to be fair to the taxpayer,” he told CTV’s Don Martin. “We are very cognizant of that.”
He added that no decisions have been made and that already the government is leading by example as MP and cabinet-minister salaries have been frozen this year. MPs earn $157,000 a year; cabinet ministers make $233,247 and the Prime Minister earns $315,000.
Granted, whatever they are paid, those cabinet ministers presently comprise the second-largest ministry and second-largest cabinet in history—the minister now seven larger and the cabinet now 12 larger than the groups Mr. Harper presented upon first taking office. Back then, one of Mr. Harper’s advisors enthused that reducing the cabinet from 39 (as it was under Paul Martin) to 27 would save $15 to $20 million per year. Presumably, reducing it from 39 (as it now is under Mr. Harper) to 27 would save roughly the same amount now.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 11:48 AM - 0 Comments
Alex Himelfarb attempts to put austerity in perspective.
Today’s austerity, however, is not primarily about fiscal prudence. If it were it wouldn’t be proceeding in tandem with large, unaffordable and unnecessary tax cuts for the most affluent among us. These tax cuts make deeper program cuts inevitable. The persistent emphasis on low taxes and cuts to services and public goods looks more like ideology masquerading as fiscal common sense. In this light, austerity seems rather to be about cutting back the state and rolling out the free market agenda. Less public, more private; less collective, more individual. It is, in other words, the fulfillment of the neoliberal counter-revolution rather than an economic plan for the future…
We need to have the debate – and the starting point cannot be some assumption about the inevitability of austerity. In fact, it ought not to be about big government versus small government. It ought to be focused on what will work to enhance the quality of life for most Canadians and what will make Canada more resilient for future generations. It ought to be a debate about what challenges, what problems, most urgently cry out for our collective attention and action. The preoccupation with austerity should not blind us to what really matters for our collective well-being.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, November 30, 2011 at 9:50 AM - 5 Comments
Number of public servants far outpaced population growth
The number of federal public servants soared by 34 per cent over the past decade, far outpacing the 11 per cent rate at which the country’s population grew over the same period, documents obtained by Postmedia News through a freedom of information request reveal. The ranks of core public servants rose from 211,925 in fiscal 2000 to 282,955 in fiscal 2010. The pace of growth reportedly picked up during the Harper government’s nearly six years in power. The data comes from briefing notes presented in April to Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who is leading the Tories’ effort to slash public spending.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 10:45 AM - 12 Comments
Postmedia tallies $10.5 million in spending on news conferences since the Conservatives took office.
Since 2006, more than $10.5 million of taxpayers’ money has been used for rentals, staging, lighting, audio and other production equipment for announcements and public events, according to recently released government documents. Foreign Affairs racked up the highest bill — $2.79 million since 2006 — while Veterans Affairs trailed behind closely with a $2.55 million total, records show.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 5:42 PM - 67 Comments
The Scene. For a full 13 questions this afternoon, the opposition insisted on pressing the government about matters—the economy, trade, the separation of powers in a proper functioning democracy—unrelated to whether or not the Defence Minister should be ashamed or at least embarrassed.
Finally, the Speaker called on the NDP’s Tarik Brahmi, a francophone apparently of Algerian descent, who nonetheless looks to me like a tough English soccer fanatic.
“Mr. Speaker, according to a release by the Canadian Press, the Defence Minister was kept out of key decisions about Canada’s role in the Afghan war,” he said. “This was a top defence priority, yet the Prime Minister was calling all the shots. The Prime Minister could have used some advice. Most agree our efforts should have focused more on peace talks and diplomacy. Is he still making foreign policy and defence decisions on his own, or does he now let his cabinet in the room?”
Peter MacKay stood here not only to enthuse about how cooperatively the Harper government operates, but also to state his objections to talks with the Taliban. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, September 29, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 27 Comments
Defence Minister Peter MacKay outranks almost all his cabinet colleagues when it comes to using federal government executive jets, racking up more than $2.9-million in flights on the Challenger planes in the past four years…
Total flying hours for planes transporting Mr. MacKay comprised 17 per cent of hours flown by all ministers in 2008, 34 per cent in 2009 and 60 per cent in 2010. As of June, 2011, jets arranged for him made up 32 per cent of all flights by ministers other than Mr. Harper.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, September 23, 2011 at 3:42 PM - 19 Comments
The latest development in our national crisis of official air travel protocol involves the Defence Minister using a Challenger jet to fly to a lobster-related celebration (the Pictou Lobster Carnival perhaps?) in his riding. Peter MacKay continued to take questions from the opposition this morning in regards to the use of a search-and-rescue helicopter to pick him up from a fishing trip, but questions about the lobster festival were handled by House leader Peter Van Loan. Mr. Van Loan’s first response to the NDP’s Christine Moore was as follows.
Mr. Speaker, taxpayers expect government officials to conduct the nation’s business at a reasonable cost. It is something that our government takes very seriously. I want to be clear. Our use of government aircraft by our ministers is always in compliance with policy. We do follow the policies. And we have reduced the use of government aircraft significantly, as we have said. When we look at Challenger use by the Liberals who spoke earlier about this issue, we have reduced our use 80% since they abused them as personal limousines constantly. We only use them for government business.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 6:36 PM - 80 Comments
The Scene. Bob Rae was making fun—pointedly, but sarcastically, mocking the government’s decision to spend $20 million for advice on how to reduce spending. It was, if nothing else, a decent bit of amusement for a Wednesday afternoon.
“Mr. Speaker, a review of public accounts show that the government spending on professional and special services, including the use of consultants, has gone up from $7.24 billion to well over $10 billion, a cumulative increase of over $7 billion,” the Liberal leader informed the House. “I’d like to ask the minister of finance, what does he think the chances are that the $20-million consultants he’s just hired are going to come back and say, ‘You know what a good way is to save money, cut the use of consultants?’”
Here Mr. Rae returned to his seat and here the Finance Minister stood. And here—after some superfluous mocking of Mr. Rae’s time as premier of Ontario—are the altogether remarkable sentences that Jim Flaherty offered in response.
“Yes, we are having experts from outside look at government spending. Yes, we should. Government should not be the sole judge of the way it’s run. We need advice from the outside.”
Had he mispoken? Had he momentarily lost control of his mouth? Did he realize people could hear him saying these things?
Apparently not, because a a few moments later he was saying such things again. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 3:53 PM - 18 Comments
Among various cuts at Environment Canada, the government is apparently about to eliminate an ozone monitoring program.
The British journal Nature says scientists and research institutes around the world have been informally told the Canadian network will be shut down as early as this winter, putting an end to continuous ozone measurements that go back 45 years.
“People are gobsmacked by this decision,” Thomas Duck, an atmospheric researcher at Dalhousie University, said in an interview with Postmedia News. He and his international colleagues say they’ve been told the network and a related data archive will be closed down as part of the Harper government’s deep cuts at Environment Canada, where hundreds of jobs are being are eliminated.
By macleans.ca - Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:22 AM - 14 Comments
MPs in Ottawa unanimously approve motion to shirk usual procedure
Members of Parliament in the House of Commons are facing criticism over their unanimous support of a motion that allows more than $250 billion to escape normally-required scrutiny. According to parliamentary rules, 24 House committees should examine bills that approve spending before they’re allowed to pass in the House of Commons. But on June 3, MPs unanimously approved a motion that will allow billions of dollars in spending to by-pass that process. The money will be available for government spending by June 23, after being looked over by just one House committee. A former MP speaking anonymously told The Hill Times that “this is like Christmas for the government, it came early.” The move came just eight days after former Auditor General Sheila Fraser issued a warning that Parliament is failing on its responsibility to properly scrutinize government spending.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 10:23 AM - 9 Comments
Chris Cobb finds a 20% cut to the budget of the National Research Council.
Although the cuts at NRC are “significant,” added Corbett, the issue is less about numbers and more about expertise. “If you have a rocket scientist going out the door, you can’t replace that person with an insect scientist,” he said. “It’s a pretty specialized field and that’s the part the government doesn’t appear to understand.
“The government is putting its fiscal policy ahead of everything and ordering all the science-based departments and agencies to cut,” he said. “And they are having a hell of a time doing it. On one hand they are trying to deliver the programs they are mandated and legislated to do, but on the other hand they are having to make some serious choices. It looks like one essential program will live at the expense of another.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 3:03 PM - 33 Comments
The hunt for the government’s mysterious cuts—as initiated by our Paul Wells—continues. Bill Curry finds $45-million taken from the Green Infrastructure Fund. Meanwhile, Tim Naumetz reviews the main estimates.
Almost all of the government’s security and public safety programs are increasing either modestly or substantially, including a 21 per cent hike in spending for the Correctional Service to $2.98-billion. The Canada Border Services Agency is receiving a 14 per cent increase, to $1.84-billion, and the Office of the Correctional Investigator, responsible for hearing complaints from offenders, is going up by 21 per cent, to $4.3-million.
But spending by the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is being reduced by 5.9 per cent to $414.6-million … The National Research Council will have its spending cut by 7.8 per cent to $690,836,000. Spending by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is set to drop by 10 per cent to $118,264,000 … The Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission is targeted for a 20 per-cent reduction in its spending, to $4.5-million from $4.7-million. Among the other agencies where cuts are planned, the Public Health Agency of Canada is set to have its spending cut by 8.2 per cent to $622-million.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at 11:09 AM - 34 Comments
Brian Topp draws lessons from Ireland’s meltdown.
The state is awash in debt (thanks in part to excessive tax cuts); the deregulated private sector has gorged itself in an orgy of speculative greed, and finally expired in a property and banking bubble; and now the working and middle class – and their children, and their grandchildren – get to pick up the tab while the winners enjoy their properties in the Grand Caymans. Nobody in Ireland stood up to the special interests. They “ran like a business.” Now the bill has come due.
These are the real stakes between those who work for moderate, prudent, incremental progressive government, moving forward within its means in the public interest, and the other side – the mouthpieces for greed and reckless irresponsibility. The shills and charlatans of the populist right, and those who fund them.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 19, 2010 at 5:36 PM - 70 Comments
The enduring riddle of opinion polling and the relationship between what people say they want and what people actually want is perhaps best captured by this bit from a new Environics poll commissioned by the Council of Canadians.
71% of Canadians strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement: “The money spent on wars and the military would all be better spent on efforts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change.”
Dan Gardner mocks. The necessary follow-up would be this: Do you agree that all the money in the defence department should be shifted to environment?
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, May 21, 2010 at 5:01 PM - 78 Comments
Maxime Bernier muses on government spending and taxation in a speech to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg.
Let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s say that the federal government is big enough as it is and that expenses are not going to grow anymore. And I’m not saying zero growth adjusted for inflation and population or GDP increase. Just zero growth. The overall budget is frozen. From now on, any government decision has to be taken within this budgetary constraint. Every new government program, or increase in an existing program, has to be balanced by a decrease somewhere else.
We will no longer have debates about how much more generous the government can be with this or that group, as if the money belonged to the government instead of taxpayers. The focus of the debate will shift to a determination of priorities: what are the most important tasks for government to achieve with the money we have? Is this government function really important and should we have more of it? Then where should we do less or what should we stop doing and leave in the hands of the free market, voluntary organisations and individual citizens? The silent majority’s interests are always being protected.