Above: Documents obtained through access-to-information show the Harper government blew the budget on marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Mike Le Couteur reports.
OTTAWA — The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal program, meant to recognize Canadians for their contributions to the country, cost taxpayers $8.1 million —more than half a million over budget, newly-released documents obtained by Global News show.
“Although well-meaning by the governor general, I think it’s a bit much,” said Peter Emon, mayor of Greater Madawaska, Ont., in line to receive two jubilee medals just for being an elected official. “I think there are some worthy volunteers that should have received these, but their medals have a little bit of an aspersion or a negative tint to them.”
Emon returned his, saying it held little meaning since so many were handed out. He didn’t feel the need to be counted among pop star Justin Bieber, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Conservative party organizer Jenni Byrne.
The program was administered over three years; the awards were handed out last year.
Documents and photocopies of original invoices obtained by Global News through access-to-information legislation show a big chunk of the budget — nearly $3.1 million — was spent producing the 60,000 medals and shipping them out.
Other costs include salaries and overtime for the four employees tasked with administering the Diamond Jubilee program, which came to nearly half a million dollars; a marketing campaign came with a $48,000 price tag; letterhead and envelopes cost nearly $13,000.
Another $85,000 of the Diamond Jubilee’s program went to producing a National Film Board DVD box set celebrating the Queen, with more than 20,000 copies shipped to schools and libraries across the country.
The costs had the Opposition wondering whether the government is really being vigilant with how it spends taxpayer dollars.
It’s concerning that the program went over budget, said NDP treasury board critic Mathieu Ravignat, adding, however, it can prove an excellent way to pay respect to volunteers in communities across the country.
“We have to be concerned about the fiscal management of this government and this program,” he said. “They certainly should have done it at cost, certainly should have done it with what was expected, and unfortunately the government couldn’t deliver this fiscally responsibly.”
Like MPs, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation also took the opportunity to nominate a handful of people to receive medals. But the program was just too big, said Gregory Thomas, federal director of the fiscally conservative advocacy group.
“Had we given out fewer, we would have paid fewer salaries, you would have had lower shipping costs and not as many medals,” he said in an interview with Global News.
A request went to Heritage Canada late last week, asking why the program went over budget. Late Tuesday, the director of communications for Heritage Minister Shelly Glover disputed the numbers, saying the access to information department misinterpreted some costs, and the Diamond Jubilee program was actually delivered under budget.
“The ATI process works independently of the program itself, and the people responding to the request simply made an error in interpreting the database of grants and contributions,” Mike Storeshaw wrote in an email, adding the government stands by every penny spent on the program.
“From veterans to young people to community leaders of all kinds, the medals recognized tens of thousands of ordinary Canadians who do extraordinary things,” he wrote. “We are proud of our investment to support this most historic and significant anniversary.”