Parliament Hill rink wins dubious award for waste of taxpayer dollars

Parliament Hill rink wins dubious award for waste of taxpayer dollars
The temporary skating rink erected on Parliament Hill for Canada 150 is costing taxpayers $100,000 per day according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Fred Chartrand/CP

A brainchild of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the structure topped the ranks of the federal government nominees for the dubious prize. The rink, which opened in early December and will remain open until the end of February, will have cost taxpayers approximately $100,000 per day and $53 per skater, calculates the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which organizes the annual  Teddy Waste Awards.

“Notably, the rink is located just one block away from the Rideau Canal, which is widely known as Canada’s most famous outdoor skating rink,” the CTF noted in a statement.

At the federal level, other nominees were:

Health Canada. It spent over $100,000 a year to run the Twitter account of the Minister of Health. The account, which has less than 3,200 followers and sends out less than two tweets per day, requires 1.5 full-time government employees to operate, according to the CTF.

The Department of Finance. It spent at least $192,000 on graphics and advertising to promote the 2017 federal budget, including nearly $90,000 in talent fees for photos and models.

Public Services and Procurement Canada. This is the department in charge of the troubled Phoenix pay system, which has resulted in countless wrong, missing and backlogged paycheques for government employees. The centralized payroll system, introduced in 2016, was initially expected to cost $310 million and save taxpayers $70 million per year. Issues, however, quickly emerged, with employees reporting that they’ve been overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all. As of December 2017, Ottawa had sank at least $400 million in efforts to fix the system but the final tally will likely be close to $1 billion, according to the Auditor General.

The Trudeau government. The CTF nominated the prime minister and his government for the $10.5 million settlement it paid to former Guantanamo Bay inmate Omar Khadr. Justin Trudeau has vigorously defended the move, which became of the most controversial decisions of his tenure as prime minister so far.

“The question is not what Omar Khadr did or didn’t do. That’s being settled in other venues,” Trudeau said at a town hall meeting in Sackville, N.S., last month. “The question is what the Government of Canada did or didn’t do and that as a deterrent, as taking responsibility, and that as actually avoiding what could have been a $40-million payout at the end of the day was why we made that decision.”

The CTF challenged the notion that Ottawa had no choice, saying that while the Supreme Court did find that Khadr’s rights had been violated, compensation could have been “far less than $10.5 million.”

As it does every year, the CTF had a pig-shaped award for provincial governments, too.

This time the winner was Ontario’s Fair Hydro Plan, a program devised by the government of Premier Kathleen Wynne that will see Ontario Power Generation borrow money to keep hydro rates low until 2021 and then see increases of nearly 7 per cent per year until 2027 in order to repay the loan. Ontario’s Auditor General has estimated the plan might end up costing $39 billion, of which $21 billion would be in interest alone.

The other provincial nominees where:

The Ontario government. The Wynne government had a double chance to take home a Teddy this year. The second nomination was for a $200,000 the government spent for a giant rubber ducky that toured the province to mark Canada 150.

Government of New Brunswick for $63 millions in loans and grants it made to failed construction company Atcon.

Danny Graham, CEO of Engage Nova Scotia. Graham, a former leader of the Nova Scotia Liberals and head of government-funded non-profit Engage Nova Scotia earned the nomination “for getting a $163,000 salary despite not being able to explain what Engage Nova Scotia does,” the CTF wrote.

SaskPower. Saskatchewan’s electric utility made the list for until recently maintaining a fish pond at its Regina headquarters at an annual cost of $20,000.

At the city level, Montreal’s municipal government took home the Teddy for spending $34 million trying to attract the so-called Formula E, the electric car version of the Formula 1. In December 2017, new-elected Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante called off the 2018 race. Montreal also had another nomination for spending $15 million over 18 months in overtime pay for police officers directing traffic.

The other nominees were:

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), for shelling out $1.9 million on public art that would allow commuters to type messages that would be displayed in lighting throughout several new subway stations. The plan was one of two schemes that earned the city a Teddy nomination. The art plan was aborted when the TTC became concerned about “hate speech and the potential for the installation to be misused by some.”

United Firefighters of Winnipeg for spending at least $1.4 million in taxpayers money to help pay for the salary of its union president.

City of Toronto. Toronto’s second nominations was for initially producing an estimate of between $65,000 and $10,000 to build a set of stairs at a public park. After facing public backlash, the city eventually built the stair for $10,000.

The lifetime achievement Teddy Award went to the City of Calgary for commissioning “awful art,” often placed in bizarre locations, as CTF federal director Aaron Wudrick put it. Among the city’s infamous masterpieces was the Forest Lawn Lift Station, a $246,000 wastewater station with embedded LED lights that soon became known as the “poop palace.”

“Art can be a wonderful thing, but Calgary’s long track record of expensive artistic flops highlights the perils of mixing art and government,” Wudrick said. “We’re pleased the city is currently reviewing the policy, but it needs to be dumped.”
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