Located in London, England, at fashionable Trafalgar Square, Canada House is responsible for the Canadian High Commissions cultural program, hosting exhibitions, concerts, performing arts presentations, literary events and film screenings. In promotional material, it is described as “a home away from home for Canadians abroad and an introduction to Canada for thousands of visitors.” Before Canada opened the facility in 1925, Prime Minister Mackenzie King said: “Canada has now been fortunate to secure what may well be regarded as the finest site in London, and being London, the finest in the world.” Over the following seven decades, Canada House served diplomatic, public affairs and academic functions, and served as the
Canadian military headquarters during the Second World War.
In May, 1998, Canada House threw an extravagant gala to celebrate a $ 15.5million make-over. The grand reopening reception featured Prime Minister Chrétien, the Queen and Prince Philip, as well as 400 high-society guests, including rock star Bryan Adams, film director Atom Egoyan, supermodel Linda Evangelista, writer John Ralston Saul, arts commentator Adrienne Clarkson (now Governor General), author Michael Ignatieff, television mogul Moses Znaimer, senior cabinet ministers Lloyd Axworthy and Sergio Marchi, as well as senior Canadian political staffers and diplomats to various countries. The invitees snacked on cod tongue and pigeon breast, and sipped Canadas finest wines as they schmoozed and worked the crowd.
If the party’s $260,000 price tag had been on the Canadian taxpayers’ tab, there would surely have been headlines back home. So Canada House offered sponsorship opportunities to Canadian businesses. Companies jumped at the chance to be associated with such a prestigious event, so much so that the money they poured in exceeded Canada Houses expectations. Many sponsors paid between $50,000 and $100,000, including the
Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank, CIBC, Northern Telecom (now Nortel Networks Corp.), Sun Life Assurance Co., and Canadian National Railways—all top donors to the Liberals, and all major lobbyists. Even a major Ottawa lobby firm, the Capital Hill Group, was a sponsor of the event. Other companies, such as Bell Canada, Air Canada and Canadian Pacific Hotels, provided services for the party. Lor their contribution, companies could invite guests to the gala, were given space to display their logos at related high commission functions, were mentioned in media kits, and could later rent the facilities of Canada House at reduced rates.
While the Canada House reopening in London was perhaps the most opulent embassy event of recent years, other Canadian missions have similar corporate-sponsored functions. In March, 1999, Canada’s consul general in Los Angeles, former prime minister Kim Campbell, hosted a Hollywood gathering at her residence for Canadas Oscar nominees, including Norman Jewison. Guests included Hollywood stars and executives, but also on hand were the sponsors, including Air Canada and Roots.
Is saving a few taxpayer dollars a more important principle of governing than maintaining integrity and impartiality? Is the government sending a positive message to the public when it makes it clear that if you have enough money, you will gain access, influence and recognition? If these events are too expensive to be funded by taxpayer dollars, maybe the tastes of our senior government representatives are simply too rich.
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