The federal government and associated bodies spent roughly $118,000 on tickets to events, galas and concerts in six months last year.
That included nearly $10,000 on tickets to bring 35 foreign investors to see Cirque du Soleil in Toronto and for the Canadian ambassador to Serbia to bring guests to see Bryan Adams in concert there in November.
Those breakdowns were provided last month by the government in response to an order paper question submitted in December 2019 by the Conservatives.
They show that in total, government departments, agencies and Crown corporations spent $118,700 between May and December 2019 on tickets to everything from hospital fundraisers, Saskatchewan Roughriders games, film festivals, networking events and what Global Affairs Canada bills as “cultural diplomacy.”
“It is a means to advancing our foreign policy objectives through increased access to decision-makers and influencers,” reads the response signed by Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade Minister Mary Ng which contained the spending details on Global Affairs Canada, Invest in Canada and Export Development Canada.
“Where relations are strong, cultural diplomacy has the capacity to reaffirm common values. It also has the potential to build trust, convey content in an alternative way, engage different segments of society, create safe spaces, address sensitive issues and even prepare the ground for difficult discussions.”
But it’s not clear exactly what was achieved by giving 35 “current and potential foreign investors” tickets worth $247.78 each to see Cirque du Soleil’s Alegria performance in Toronto in November, at a total cost of $8,672.30.
The guest list included corporate CEOs, presidents, managing partners, government relations workers, advisors and two guests listed as “country head.”
The total amount of gala and tickets expenses vary greatly by departments and federal bodies, and are not a complete total for the year.
A previous order paper question from June 2019 requested the same information from the period of Jan. 1, 2018, to May 1, 2019.
Over that roughly one-and-a-half-year period, the total spent on tickets to events and galas was $269,110.47 — a little more than double the amount spend between May 2019 and December 2019.
Not all off the responses necessarily include funds provided by taxpayers.
Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said while he isn’t overly concerned about the total amount spent, he is concerned about why the information isn’t more easily accessible and more detailed in terms of how it achieved broader policy goals.
“Canadians shouldn’t have to rely on order paper questions to get this information. It should be posted proactively, as a rule, so that everything is transparent,” Wudrick said.
“If taxpayers have to spend a few thousands dollars to wine and dine some CEOs in the hopes it leads to business contracts, the government should say so, and it also needs to track whether it actually works,” he continued.
“It doesn’t mean every single expenditure has to yield a concrete result, but if, say, there’s 20 cases of buying tickets to sports games that yield zero tangible results, maybe it’s time to rethink the value of doing it.”
Global Affairs Canada would not say whether the gifts resulted in any concrete investment but one government official speaking on background characterized the spending on tickets as taking place “infrequently.”
“In one case, several Serbian officials, including the Speaker of the Serbian Parliament, the mayor of Belgrade, and the Serbian minister of labour were invited to attend a Bryan Adams concert with the ambassador of Canada in Belgrade. In another instance, Invest in Canada invited heads of global companies operating in Canada to attend Cirque du Soleil,” the official said.
“These activities strengthen Canada’s network of contacts and helps advance commercial ties between the two countries.”
“The government of Canada is committed to deepening bilateral commercial relationships, attracting investment into Canada, and creating export opportunities in new markets. The government of Canada looks forward to future business connections that arise from these engagements.”
In the previous period between Jan. 2018 and May 1, 2019, Global Affairs Canada reported spending $22,993.43 on tickets for ambassadors, guests and others.
Many departments, including Environment and Climate Change Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, and the Privy Council Office among others reported no spending on tickets during the time period in question.
Canada Post, as it has in previous requests, refused to say how much it spent on tickets.
The biggest spender overall was Farm Credit Canada, which reported $24,899 in spending on tickets to galas and events.
Included in that was $7,000 for eight tickets, each worth $875, to the Canadian Red Cross’s Red Gala; $5,000 on 10 tickets, worth $500 each, to a ball held by the Hospitals of Regina Foundation; and $3,139 on 40 tickets to Saskatchewan Roughriders games.
Farm Credit Canada is a Crown corporation under the authority of Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and does loans and venture capital for agricultural businesses in Canada. But it said it wasn’t spending any taxpayer money on the tickets because it doesn’t receive any.
“FCC is a self-sustaining commercial Crown corporation that operates in Canada’s highly competitive financial sector. Contributing to non-profit organization fundraisers is both reasonable and common practice for any commercial business,” said spokesperson Trevor Sutter.
He said FCC “receives no appropriations (tax dollars) from government.”
The second-highest spender on tickets was the Business Development Bank of Canada, which reported $18,641 in those expenses.
It also included a note in its response to the order paper question saying that those were not taxpayer dollars.
“BDC is an independent, commercial and financially sustainable Crown corporation that does not spend departmental funds or incur government expenditures and as such it does not receive appropriations from Parliament,” their note reads.
The third-highest spender — and the highest spender using taxpayer dollars — was Global Affairs Canada.
It reported spending $14,355 on tickets, which rises to roughly $22,000 if the costs of the Cirque du Soleil tickets purchased by Invest in Canada are factored in.
Invest in Canada is an arms-length organization established by Global Affairs Canada and former international trade minister Francois-Philippe Champagne in 2018. It has a budget of $218 million in federal funds allocated over five years.
It’s not the first time federal government spending on event tickets has raised eyebrows.
In 2017, Global Affairs Canada spent close to $10,000 on tickets for travel “influencers” and business executives to watch the Toronto Blue Jays play baseball.
Officials at the department defended the spending as an opportunity to “stimulate discussion and interact with stakeholders.”