Canada 150 celebrations will cost taxpayers half a billion

Fireworks explode over Parliament Hill to celebrate New Year's Eve and Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Saturday, December 31, 2016.
Fireworks explode over Parliament Hill to celebrate New Year's Eve and Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Saturday, December 31, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

This year’s big anniversary celebrations across Canada are coming with a hefty price tag for taxpayers, with Ottawa spending over $500 million to mark the 150th year since Confederation.

The Department of Canadian Heritage is coordinating a huge portion of the federal funding to the nationwide party. The department’s Canada 150 Fund is worth $200 million in total.

Of that, $80 million is being set aside for “signature initiatives.” That includes events that could be enjoyed by Canadians coast-to-coast, like a re-enactment of the 1967 Centennial Canoe Race that will involve 26 canoe race teams from across the country.

The funding for the “signature” initiatives is now completely spoken for, with the $80 million allocated to support 38 different projects.


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The next chunk of the Canada 150 fund, worth $100 million, is being used for more local, community-driven initiatives and events. That could be something like helping to put on the Gros Morne Summer Music festival in Newfoundland and Labrador, funding to plant a “Canada 150 Edible Forest Garden” in Red Deer, or a giant game of snakes and ladders in Calgary.

The $100 million for community events is still being doled out. Applications were due last fall, and as of early May, over 500 projects had been approved out of an initial pool of 3,285 pitches.

Those projects are worth a combined $83 million, so there is still about $17 million in funding left, according to the numbers provided to Global News.

“As Canada 150 projects are still in the process of being announced, we invite you to refer to our website to stay up to date with future project announcements,” a department spokesperson said.

It’s unclear if Canadian Heritage is keeping track of these projects on an ongoing basis, but many of the initiatives have websites that are kept updated with the latest information and target dates for completion.

A new monument and “spirit walk” designed and created by Saskatchewan artists is scheduled to be unveiled at Buffalo Pound Provincial Park on Aug. 17, for example. It received $498,000 in federal money.

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A mobile application and website, dubbed Passport 2017, was also funded to the tune $1.3-million to help Canadians find events happening in their area.

Security sold separately

The final $20 million of the overall $200 million budget is being set aside for major events, according to Canadian Heritage. That budget is still on track, the department confirmed in early May.

“This investment includes the kick-off celebrations that took place in Canada’s Capital Region on December 31, 2016, and upcoming festivities to be held during the Celebrate Canada period in Canada’s Capital Region and across the country,” a spokesperson for Canadian Heritage said.

“These funds are supporting the planning and delivery of daytime programming and evening shows in 18 cities. Details about these upcoming events will soon be announced.”

That “major events” budget, however, does not include the cost of security provided by the RCMP, Parliamentary Protective Services or local police departments. The level of security required “is defined and funded by these security organizations” and not Canadian Heritage, so the final tab will definitely exceed $20 million.

Flags and banners

Another additional cost will be promotional items for Canada 150, which are not included in the heritage department’s budget.

Standing offers for Canada 150 merchandise like flags have been in place for months, with documents going out over the winter.

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“Other federal departments can access these standing offers to order Canada 150 merchandise, however the cost is covered by their own departmental budgets,” the heritage department spokesperson said.

The precise costs of all the flags or other merchandise ordered so far is unknown.

Sprucing up the local arena

Starting with the previous Conservative government, there has also been a separate but equally expensive push to give Canadian cities and towns a face-lift for the 150th celebration.

The Harper government budgeted $150 million to repair cultural and recreational infrastructure, such as sports arenas. The program was advertised as part of Canada 150 funding, and the Liberals doubled the pot when they took power in late 2015, to $300 million.

All told, that means Canada 150 is going to set federal coffers back a minimum of half-a-billion dollars, plus security, promotional items and other potentially unforeseen costs.

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Individual provinces are also contributing, of course. Ontario, for instance, set aside $7 million for its own Ontario 150 “Community Celebration Program” to support 367 projects within its borders, some of which may also be receiving a federal grant.

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The province also has $25 million set aside to fix up community and cultural infrastructure and $5 million “to support new partnerships and collaborations that engage, enable and empower youth as the next generation of Ontario leaders.”

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