Auditor General says, "Canadian taxpayers deserve better": Yes they do

Ottawa - Friday, May 10, 2002 - by: Walter Robinson, Federal Director, Canadian Taxpayers Federation


This week federal Auditor General (AG) Sheila Fraser released a sixteen page report on three contracts awarded to Montreal-based GroupAction Marketing Inc. This company acted as a quasi-broker in placing government sponsorship, mostly in the province of Quebec.




Federal sponsorship is not a cottage industry; it tallies over $40 million a year. In return for cutting cheques to local festivals and hunting shows, the Canada logo or “wordmark” gets prime placement at these events. This — according to the Prime Minister — is supposed to evoke warm and fuzzy feelings toward the federal government.




In March, the Globe and Mail broke a story showing that Public Works and Government Services Canada paid over $500,000 to GroupAction for a report that the department could not find. After much opposition and media pressure the missing report did surface but was strikingly similar to another GroupAction report that cost taxpayers another $500,000. The government was hounded about this and eventually the Auditor General was called in to investigate a total of three contracts to this company worth almost $1.6 million.




This brings us back to Auditor General's recent report on this whole sordid and sleazy affair. Indeed, the Auditor General’s news release says it all …
“Senior public servants broke just about every rule in the book … I have referred this matter to the RCMP and I am undertaking a government-wide value-for-money audit of advertising and sponsorship programs of the Government of Canada.”




The Auditor General goes on to state:
“The rules that were broken — the Financial Administration Act and government contracting regulations — apply to public servants, not contractors.”
We can only hope that her investigation and that of the RCMP interprets public servants in the broadest possible sense to include elected officials as well.




While these investigations proceed, here’s what should happen. Former Public Works Minister — now our Ambassador to Denmark — Alfonso Gagliano, should be recalled. He was the Minister who presided over this whole contracting fiasco. His continued presence in Denmark is an insult to the professionalism of our foreign service and a blatant slap to the Danish people.




Second, the senior public servants who broke “just about every rule in the book” should be fired. But given past performance, it is unlikely that any pink slips will be issued. Even the Enron scandal in the United States has seen people take responsibility for their actions!



Ads ?

Finally, Ottawa must revisit its entire framework for advertising and sponsorship. Even if Minister Gagliano is recalled and bureaucratic heads do roll, there is no guarantee this will not happen again.




Yes, some government advertising is necessary. Ads warning against the spread of foot and mouth disease at our airports and borders come to mind. Promotion of vaccination campaigns for meningitis or influenza outbreaks is also justifiable. Ditto for ads telling citizens how to access government services during public service strikes. These activities are not in question.




At issue is when governments pony up your hard earned cash to sponsor formula one races, hunting shows, tulip festivals, folk music gatherings, winter carnivals, fireworks displays, etc. Or when monopoly service provision crown corporations like Canada Post, the Royal Canadian Mint, or provincial brewing and lottery monopolies take out rink board and stadium advertising at sporting and cultural events.




Every dollar spent in this wasteful sphere is a dollar diverted away from debt reduction, health care or proper equipment for our military. But let’s leave the last words to the Auditor General:
“This is a completely unacceptable way for government to do business. Canadian taxpayers deserve better.”
  Walter Robinson
Federal Director