Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the Vancouver Park Board’s contention with figures reported by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for one of its projects.
The nominees have been released for the most wasteful uses of taxpayer dollars across Canada, and B.C. has unsurprisingly found itself at the top of one of the categories.
The legislature spending scandal outlined in a series of bombshell reports by Speaker Darryl Plecas — which accuse clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz of billing taxpayers for multiple unnecessary and luxurious items — topped the list of provincial nominees of the 2019 Teddy Waste Awards, which are presented by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF).
Kris Sims, B.C.’s director for the CTF, said the scandal is the epitome of the purpose of the awards, which is to bring “levity” to the serious problem of misspending.
“When people see their money being wasted on silly, stupid stuff like this, they realize their taxes are too high and that that money isn’t going towards good things or to tax cuts,” Sims said.
“That’s why we try to highlight this issue every single year.”
Because the full extent of the spending scandal at the legislature has not yet been made clear, the CTF couldn’t provide a total cost to taxpayers.
WATCH: Coverage of the B.C. legislature scandal on Globalnews.ca
But the highlights of what’s been revealed in the reports are now well-known, from the $3,200 spent on a wood splitter and another $10,000 on a trailer for wood tools to more than $3,000 spent on new suits and luggage sets.
The nomination also pointed to the way some of those expenses were claimed, including a $1,000 whale watching trip that was written off as a tsunami awareness exercise and $1,300 for tickets to a Seattle Mariners game that were claimed as “attendance at an information session on mass evacuations,” the CTF said.
“These are tens of thousands of dollars when you add them all up, and every single nickle of it came from your wallets and your bank accounts,” Sims said.
James and Lenz are currently on paid suspension awaiting the results of an RCMP investigation, along with multiple internal and independent investigations into the allegations from the Speaker. None of them have been proven in court and both James and Lenz maintain their innocence.
That’s wasn’t B.C.’s only offence in the eyes of the Teddy Awards: the province also nabbed the top spot on the list of municipal nominees with a unique campaign from the Vancouver Park Board.
“They got artists to put signs on trees that said, ‘Hi, I’m a tree, email me,'” Sims said. “And when you did, the artist would write you back pretending to be the tree. Your taxpayer dollars paid for this.
“I don’t think I’d be sending a tree a letter,” she added. “What’s the purpose of it?”
The campaign, dubbed “All the Trees,” invited people to send personal messages to their favourite trees in the Jericho and West Point Grey area. The total cost to taxpayers, according to the CTF? $50,000.
The Vancouver Park Board has taken issue with that figure, saying in a statement Thursday that their total contribution to the one-year artistic project was $7,000.
That was out of a total cost of $12,000 for artist Holly Schmidt’s “Beat a Path” project, which included All the Trees.
When asked where she got her $50,000 figure, Sims said she added up figures reported by Global News.
That original article said Schmidt along with four other people would be handling the emails, and that the Park Board grants artists $10,000 for special projects like Beat a Path out of its Artists in Communities Program. The article never said those five people were being paid $10,000 each, which is how Sims said she came up with $50,000.
Pigeon birth control
TransLink also took a runner-up spot for their initiative with the BC SPCA to get pigeons on birth control to stop the spread of the birds in SkyTrain stations.
The pilot project saw bird feeders installed at the VCC-Clark station that dispenses OvoControl, with the hopes the pigeons eat from the feeder on a daily basis. The feeders cost $1,000 each.
B.C. was the only province to top multiple categories, which Sims said is nothing to be proud of.
WATCH: (Aired Feb. 7) Jordan Armstrong reports on TransLink’s pigeon birth control project
“I don’t think this has ever happened before,” she said. “We beat every other province and every other municipality because we’re emailing trees and buying wood splitters for a provincial legislature.
The federal winner of the Teddy Awards — named for a federal bureaucrat who was fired in the 1990s for billing taxpayers for his own extravagant expenses — was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his eight-day family trip to India.
Taxpayers funded the trip with a total of $1.6 million.
— With files from Jordan Armstrong, Richard Zussman, Amy Judd and Simon Little