Global Affairs Canada spent $24,638 on 86 leather cushions destined to pad chairs at its embassy in Mexico City, new documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation reveal.
The eye-watering price amounts to approximately $286 per cushion. The Canadian-made products were purchased in the fall of 2016 from a Regina-based company and sent to Mexico City, where they have presumably been making diplomats and visitors more comfortable ever since.
“It is a shocking figure for seat cushions,” said CTF president Aaron Wudrick, adding that the price did not include shipping from Saskatchewan to Mexico.
“If we were upset about $16 orange juice, I can’t imagine what people will think of $286 seat cushions. It’s just outrageous.”
The taxpayers federation flagged the expense on Monday morning, highlighting it as an example of wasteful spending that should never have been approved by Ottawa. Wudrick said a quick online search yielded cushions for around $50 apiece, with some bargain options as low as $17.
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The company that made the cushions was Circa Office Interiors Ltd., a First Nations-owned furniture supply company based in Regina. The business is now listed as permanently closed, and calls to the company’s offices went to voicemail.
It isn’t the first time the department has relied on the company for furnishings. Global Affairs previously had four separate contracts with Circa Office Interiors (which sourced its products directly from artisans) in 2014 that were worth between $21,716 and $24,675. Those would have been approved under the previous government.
Wudrick said that while Liberal or Conservative governments alike may wish to highlight Canadian companies and products abroad, that’s no justification for an expense like these cushions on the taxpayer’s dime.
“Whether it’s seat cushions, or airplanes, or ships, the goal of procurement should be to get the best value for taxpayers,” he said.
“The minute governments start cramming in other policy objectives, they undermine the main objective, which is to get the best product for the lowest price,” Wudrick added. “Creating jobs is great, helping Indigenous communities is great. But paying grossly inflated prices for objects is not the way to go about doing that.”
A spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada defended the purchase, however, noting that embassies abroad serve an important role in promoting Canadian businesses and products, including Indigenous products.
“This includes these cushions, which have a prominent public-facing location in the embassy’s atrium,” said spokesperson Elizabeth Reid in an emailed statement.
“These products were a one-time purchase as part of an ongoing refurbishment of the embassy, and will be in use for years to come. We know that taxpayers’ dollars must be treated with the utmost respect, in terms of both expenditures by Global Affairs Canada headquarters and embassies.”
Expenditures linked to Canadian embassies will continue to be scrutinized carefully moving forward, she added.