November 28, 2017 9:59 am
Updated: November 28, 2017 11:45 am

Plates, pens, sculptures of bears: Here’s the $35k worth of stuff your government has been giving away

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau presents a gift with wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau meet with Pope Francis for a private audience at the Vatican on Monday, May 29, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
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As Canadians head to the stores to stock up on holiday gifts this week, they’re also getting a clearer picture of what kinds of goodies are being handed out by people representing the federal government.

Since the Liberals came to power in early November 2015, government ministers, deputy ministers, judges and even heads of organizations like the National Capital Commission have given away nearly $35,000 worth of stuff.

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There have been cufflinks and fancy plates and pins and sculptures, plus artistic prints and books and boxes and pens. Lots and lots of pens.

A full rundown of every item pulled from Heritage Canada’s “gift bank” between Nov. 5, 2015, and Oct. 2, 2017, was recently tabled in the House of Commons in response to a written question from Conservative MP Earl Dreeshen.

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The list includes the date the items were requested, which government representative requested them, what they were and their value.

The names of the recipients have been redacted, however, so it’s unclear who got the “Birks Maple Leaf Cuff Links” from then-health minister Jane Philpott in July 2016. One can safely assume it was a man.

The Canadian Heritage Department manages the gift bank and estimates that the overall value of their treasure trove is $135,544. There are strict rules in place governing its use.

“Officials of the Government of Canada present a gift only on occasions where they further international relations, when official hospitality abroad is involved, or when foreign visitors or delegations are hosted in Canada,” explained a spokesperson for the department.

That means no gifts can be handed out to another government of Canada official, or to any provincial or territorial official, whether at home or abroad.

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The gift bank’s inventory doesn’t include anything worth more than $500, and some items are worth much less. Someone was handed a pin worth just $3.50 from former veterans affairs minister Kent Hehr last August.

 

The government’s most prolific gift-giver is also one the longest-serving MPs in cabinet: Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. He’s dipped into the gift bank 55 times for a total value of $2,355.

But while Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr accessed the bank just 43 times, the total value of his gifts was double Goodale’s at $4,678.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, meanwhile, has used the bank 33 times for a total value of $2,517.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau was a far less frequent user, taking out just 10 gifts for distribution since joining the federal cabinet. The heritage minister herself, Melanie Joly, accessed it only four times, and there are a few ministers who’ve never used it at all, like Carolyn Bennett and Marc Garneau.

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There are also some lesser-known names on Heritage’s gift-bank list. These include Kathleen Roussel, director of public prosecutions, and Dr. Gregory Taylor, chief public health officer.

One member of the opposition is listed as well. Conservative MP Steven Blaney apparently gave someone a set of coasters worth just under $12 in March 2016, although it’s not clear how he was able to use the bank as the rules say it’s only meant for “a minister, deputy minister, or equivalent.” It was potentially an administrative error, as Blaney (a former minister) said he’s drawing a blank on the mystery coasters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also only accessed Heritage’s gift bank once, pulling out a birch bark basket worth $395 in late November 2015.

Trudeau and other ministers also give plenty of other gifts during official overseas visits, however, and at least some of those were provided in a separate list from Global Affairs Canada. The value of those items — like the Leonard Cohen Complete Studio Albums CD set that ex-foreign affairs minister Stephane Dion bought for someone off Amazon — is not listed.

As department officials put it, doing so could be “injurious to bilateral relations between Canada and other countries.”

Who gets what? The selection of a gift and its value is based on the following guidelines:

  • Up to $500 for a minister when presenting a gift abroad
  • Up to $300 when a gift is presented by a minister within Canada
  • Up to $200 for a deputy minister or associate deputy minister when presenting a gift abroad
  • Up to $100 when a gift is presented by a deputy minister or associate deputy minister in Canada

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