The money-wasters


December 15 1975

The money-wasters


December 15 1975

The money-wasters


It was, everyone agreed, a swell party. The finest French champagne, specially flown in for the occasion, gushed in geysers. Smoked salmon and lobster Newburg spilled over the buffet table which stretched a lavish 500 feet. For the 2,000 government bigwigs, visiting dignitaries and reporters whooping it up at the fourday bash that marked the unveiling of Montreal’s new $600-million Mirabel International Airport, it was the sort of sumptuous hospitality that this country hadn’t seen the likes of since the heady halcyon days of Expo 67. No matter if a fuse blew on one of the spiffy new $400,000 Passenger Transfer Vehicles, temporarily stranding a planeload of officials in midtarmac. Three free bars flowing at the nearby Holiday Inn helped 600 visiting journalists wait out any bothersome delays. Said one British newsman, quaffing complimentary vintage French burgundy, “Eve never seen anything quite like it.” But then, when the bills started to roll in, neither had anyone else.

All in all, the little weekend celebration racked up a price tag of more than $500,000—including $12,179 in hotel bills for 10 foreign ministers, $48,840 worth of food and $20,000 worth of booze. If there was only one thing more disconcerting than the totals, it was their timing. Mirabel’s party tab came to light not quite three weeks after the Prime Minister had sat the nation down after its Thanksgiving dinner, sternly meting out wage and price controls with the promise that “governments also must do their part.” It was not exactly a surprise, then, when Opposition leader Robert Stanfield popped up in the House of Commons during the Mirabel debate to inquirejust how Ottawa planned to take its own advice.

Trudeau should not have had to search too far and wide for the answers. For in a time when he is admonishing the nation to tighten its collective belt, it has become increasingly clear that his government has more than a few spare notches of its own to pull in. In the current fiscal year, federal spending will add up to $31.3 billion— ihore than the combined budgets of all three levels of government in 1967, the year before Trudeau came to power. In that time, total government spending has increased 230% to $70 billion. Out of every $100 spent on goods and services this year in Canada (including transfer payments) governments will spend $40.

Government has now become one of the country’s biggest and fastest growing industries.

This year more than 1.2 million Canadians—or one out of every eight in the work force—will collect their pay cheques from a federal, provincial or local level of government, at a staggering cost of more than $ 10 billion in salaries. Of these, 332,230 are in the federal civil service, which will chalk up a payroll this year of $4,824,880,000. In his cheerless Thanksgiving tidings, Trudeau intoned that “there will be practically no growth in the public service.” But his critics aren’t taking any bets. Back in 1969, he announced a “brutal squeeze” on the federal bureaucracy that was to lop off 10% or 24,000 jobs, but a year later Trudeau had managed to pare it down by only one fifth of 1%—for the grand total of 525. In fact, instead of shrinking, the federal payroll swelled last year with another 9,419 names—not counting the 17,000 extra casual employees hired.

Like Topsy, the Ottawa work force has just sprouted. And no wonder. While the top civil service regulars in Washington earn no more than $43,000, the highestpaid Ottawa mandarins rake in as much as $62,500 a year. Indeed, a special study by Toronto-Dominion bank chairman Allan T. Lambert confessed to being “disturbed” that the number of people in the senior executive categories in Ottawa had grown by an astounding 474 persons—or 82%—in the past five years. The biggest single leap may well be in Trudeau’s own personal staff which has now multiplied to an amazing 95 persons, with a budget of more than two million dollars. Trudeau has told the Commons that he needs more than half of them to answer his mail.

If it has never been quite clear just what each and every one of the bodies hired on by government do, it has sometimes been all too obvious too late what they have done. From those wonderful folks that brought you the Bonaventure, the legendary aircraft carrier that was refitted in 1970 at a cost of $28 million and sold to Taiwan for $851,700 as scrap only two years later, more horror stories about how governments have been spending their money—our money, that is.

In the past year, Ottawa has been hot on the trail of that nagging question : how long do people spend in public washrooms? To

that end, taxpayers have so far paid out $79,000. By depositing themselves in the washrooms of Ottawa’s National Arts Centre during intermission, recording arrival rates, duration and frequency of toilet traffic, researchers have so far flushed out the fact that a man spends an average of 41 seconds at a urinal, while a woman spends 75 seconds using the cubicle. Not satisfied with that sampling, they have fanned out to study urinary movement at a shopping plaza and three grandstands—with plans to extend their quest to offices, industrial plants, schools, movies and restaurants. So far the study is estimated to be 40% complete. When finished, it is expected to be invaluable for developing satisfactory building codes, according to Bud Drury, Minister of Science and Technology, who claims the money isn’t going down the drain. Estimated final cost: $200,000.

Bank of Canada governor Gerald Bouey was calling for “a sober appreciation by Canadians of the seriousness of our economic problems which will call forth sufficient will to cooperate in their solution.” Lo, as he spoke, the Bank of Canada’s new $40-million headquarters rose loftily behind him—12 storeys of exquisite reflecting glass that mirror the sky and surrounding panorama—the most expensive office building of its size in Canada. The castle of glass and steel just down the street from the Parliament Buildings will include a 12storey-high, year-round enclosed garden and a two-ton round stone imported from Yap Island in the Pacific that was once used as South Seas currency. Still, with a little imagination, the bank tower could be looked upon as a bargain. After all, when Bouey’s predecessor, Louis Rasminsky, first proposed it back in 1969, the building that he originally wanted would have cost $75 million.

Parlez-vous, Anne Bouey? Certainly, the reply that the rest of the country hungers to hear is not “Yes,” but “Oui!” For thanks to the government’s continued dedication to bilingualism, the wife of the governor of the Bank of Canada—who makes $75,000 a year—along with hundreds of other wives of Ottawa’s senior civil servants and MPS have been sent to French school, free. More than 170 wives are expected to enroll in the 1976 sessions beginning in January, which feature two three-hour lessons each week at Ottawa’s Alliance Française. Although the costs for this year have not yet been tallied, since the program began in 1970 the government has spent $324,364 to provide free French lessons for the wives. Among the alumnae are Adrian Lang, wife of Transport Minister Otto Lang, who makes $49,000 a year and gets another $10,600 in tax-free expenses, and Jean Teron, wife of William Teron, president of Central Mortgage and Housing, whose $50,000-plus salary is a secret—although it is no secret that Teron is a millionnaire in his own right.

It is no longer enough for a mechanic in the army to know how to say la plume de ma tante. Soon he may also have to be able to translate such heady phrases as “the piston of my engine.” For in keeping with the government’s commitment to the way through two official languages, the defense department has suddenly been instructed to translate into French all its military operational and repair manuals. The only problem is that, with two million pages of manuals involved, the government translation bureau cannot possibly cope with the job. This means that the contract will have to be farmed out to free lances at the going rate of $15 apage. Total cost of it all is estimated at $30 million,although it may in fact be slightly less: it seems there is some question right now about whether to bother translating the repair manuals for all the jets, tanks and other equipment the defense department is about to replace.

When the Canadian Armed Forces base in Gimli, Manitoba, just north of Winnipeg, was closed down in 1971, Manitoba premier Ed Schreyer reassured the town’s 600 residents not to worry about their jobs. With the help of a $750,000 loan, he had persuaded Montreal-based Saunders Aircraft Ltd. to relocate there and produce its ST-27, a two-engine 23-seat passenger plane. There was only one small difficulty to contend with : nobody seemed to want to buy the plane. Only two of them had been sold. To keep the company afloat the government loaned Saunders $9.4 million and took over management. Two years later public investment was up to $19 million— and the company had sold only seven planes, including two to the federal government. Schreyer’s cabinet approved another loan of $6.1 million to the company last year. So far, despite a ministerial order to suspend production, Saunders has received a total of $35 million tax dollars, and a further four million may be on its way. Although the aircraft is fast shaping up as the little plane that couldn’t, brighter days may be ahead: there are reports a new buyer may turn up any day now to relieve the province—the federal government.

Why build when you can rent? The answer certainly seemed obvious to the federal public works department, which agreed to lease a former Air Canada office building at Winnipeg airport from CAE Aircraft Ltd. for use as a computerized taxation data centre. But unfortunately the cost of renovations to rig the building out with its complex computer equipment will come to $1.7 million. “This is the most ridiculous deal they could have possibly made,” protests Winnipeg MP Dan McKenzie, who has worked out the price at approximately $15 a square foot—almost twice what it would have cost for a brand-new building.

The road from Saskatchewan’s Highway 45 to the shores of Diefenbaker Lake, where it ends only yards from a summer camp outhouse, has been getting quite a bit of attention lately. First, municipal reeve Earl Lesyk asked Saskatchewan’s Department of Highways to repair it, but when they turned him down Lesyk gave in and spent $5,000 of the municipality’s own money to level and re-gravel it. No sooner was that finished than a highways department grader suddenly showed up, swept all the new gravel off into the ditch and laid down an oil-top base for another $9,000. The only trouble was that the municipality couldn’t afford to keep up the repairs and the road promptly broke up. Within the last few months, another provincial road crew has set about trying to scrape all the old gravel dumped into the ditch back onto the road. When that didn’t work, they laid down another level of oil. Now the road is breaking up again, despite the fact that $22,000 has been spent on it to date. Perhaps the most pampered stretch of highway in Canada, the road is nine miles long.

While Peter Lougheed has been busily beating the drum for Alberta in London and Paris, the gentlemen from the province’s export agency have not been sitting idle at home twiddling their 10-gallon hats. Last March the agency sent an 18-member delegation to Mexico City, including a handful of Alberta businessmen and their wives, where they ran up a bill of $ 15,840 during a two-day stay at the El Camino Real Hotel, which has also played host to that fellow oilman of theirs, the Shah of Iran. Three members of the delegation enjoyed the ambience so much that they stayed on an extra few days at a cost of $7,125. Although the mission’s accomplishments have so far not been reported, there are certainly those with an eye on the agency ever since Dr. Glen Purnell, former Deputy Minister of Economic Planning Development, got back from a trip to Brazil where, in the course of his government mission, it was discovered he was busy selling the Brazilian government $11,250 worth of bull semen from his own herd.

Quebec City officials, concerned about the liberties local pigeons were taking with historic government buildings, sent a factfinding team to Brasilia, Brazil, to study the problem in the world’s largest pigeon capital. They came back with the idea of a 20-foot-high roost, designed to attract more than 800 birds and nest them in radiant-heated comfort. Despite the $20,000 price tag of the posh pigeon hotel built in the city’s Grande Allée park, the birds were not impressed. Even locking suitable mating companions inside failed to lure the pigeon population to the roost. Mystified as to why the birds spurned the lavish attentions and continued to leave their mark on the city’s venerable stone, another fact-finding team came up with the answer: pigeons never roost that low.


In Montreal, officials want everything to be just right for the Olympics. T ake, for example, the problem of getting athletes and spectators across busy Sherbrooke Street. In addition to his regular architectural duties, French architect Roger Taillibert, whose bill is now estimated at $37 million, has come up with a breathtaking viaduct that sweeps under the street, then rises magnificently on sculptured pedestals to become a promenade. Although it was estimated to cost $3.5 million three years ago, its price tag has risen with its columns. Total cost now: $20 million.

Which makes the Olympic flame sound like a bargain. Sent from Greece to Ottawa by means of satellite and laser beam, the flame will finally come to rest on a complex system that will keep it turning aloft for 16 days—for a mere $250,000.

Montreal musicians are burning already. Turning down the Sun Life Assurance company’s offer of a $ 100,000 Olympic song competition, officials instead went ahead and bought an Olympic song of their own. They paid $40,000 for the rights to the music composed by the late André Mathieu, $75,000 more to Montreal musician Vic Vogel to arrange it and another $8,000 to pint-size chanteur René Simard to sing it on record - for a total of $ 123,000. With words like, “Welcome to Montreal, welcome to Montreal, we’d love to say Bonjour, we hope you’re on your way,” the song does not have the sound of a sure-fire hit. And, in fact, radio stations are refusing to play it.

“Our floating ambassador,” Newfoundland’s Minister of Tourism, Tom Hickey, calls the 93-foot schooner, the Norma and Gladys, which last August set out from St. John’s for Okinawa, Japan, as Canada’s exhibit at the International Ocean Exposition. In the course of the voyage, however, there has been some doubt about whether “our floating ambassador” might not turn out to be more like Farley Mowat’s boat that wouldn’t float. In midApril, four months before it set sail, a committee of experienced sailors examined the Norma and Gladys and pronounced, “She’ll never make it.” Hickey replied that the study was never intended to be made public. Since then, the Norma and Gladys has been forced to put into the port of New York for two weeks for unscheduled remasting and rerigging—and is currently lurching somewhere in open waters at a total investment estimated at $800,000, of which $300,000 will come from Ottawa.

In the nation’s capital, another group has been preoccupied with sprucing up its own image. The post office has a public affairs branch that employs 85 people at a cost of two million dollars for just that purpose—although it is careful to point out that none of them has any responsibility for dealing with public complaints. The post office public relations team did, however, come up with a snappy TV ad showing a doctor dropping local blood samples in his mailbox with the message, “Your mail is vital.” The ad—with five others—appeared 1,661 times on TV stations across the country at a total campaign cost of $436,138. However, it had to be taken off the air abruptly—due to the mail strike.

To be fair, attempts by government to save money usually run into tremendous resistance from the recipients, whereas attempts to increase spending usually win general support. Nevertheless, with Ottawa tallying up $60 million in fees to outside consultants, Prince Edward Island hiring on a consulting crew to look into the weighty question of what kind of garbage people throw into roadside ditches and in New Brunswick a Quebec consulting firm being retained to count the number of trees on a 200,000-acre forces’ base at Gagetown (at a cost of $24,355), there seems to be some scope for government cutbacks. Trudeau has already warned that the federal government’s cost-cutting program “will hurt.” Still, one cannot be sure exactly what he was referring to after hearing about the government’s ideas for setting up a public information branch for its own Anti-Inflation Review Board. The bureaucrat charged with the job decided he needed a staff of nine—so he submitted a request for 18 employees. His superior roundly trounced him. “You should have asked for 40,” he said.

Still, if Trudeau doesn’t lop off enough offending areas of federal spending, the country can rest assured that they will nevertheless be exposed. Already a private group called the National Citizens’ Coalition is looking for the person who can come up with the best example of government extravagance. In memory of the man who once mercilessly exposed government bloopers—former auditor general Maxwell Henderson, who also happens to be the judge of the contest—the coalition is offering a “Max” award for the best suggestion. And a reward of $500.