Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gift Gate

When Manitoba hosted the Western Premiers Conference in 2006, visiting politicians were given so many gifts, they had to be given bags to carry them all home. Although details are still coming forward, the event is shaping up to be yet another example of government extravagance and waste.

Golf shirts, denim shirts, fishing reels, chocolates, jackets, scarves and scales for weighing fish were some of the “mementos” handed out using public dollars. Some attendees received $185 “ Hyde Port garment bags” while others had to “get by” with $15 bags.

As it stands right now, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) has obtained government documents that showed at least $25,907 was spent on gifts for the conference’s 105 “dignitaries”. If you do the math, that’s an average of $246 per attendee -- and counting.

Unfortunately, we still don’t have all the details. The government informed the CTF that it would have to pay $600 in order to get all the expense information. As a non-profit organization, that’s a tough pill to swallow, but we’ll continue to do what we can to get to the bottom of this.

However, what we do know is that MPI, Manitoba Hydro and the MLCC picked up the $25,907 gift tab. That’s right, when you paid your Autopac and hydro bills in 2006, you actually helped buy bags full of “mementos” for Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and the bureaucrat posse he brought with him to the conference.

Surprisingly, documents revealed that although MPI’s board was only asked to donate $8,000 towards buying gifts, they decided to top it up to $10,000. How nice of them to throw our Autopac premiums around with such a care free attitude. Little wonder why they recently fought to hide their expenses from the public utilities board.

Not to be outdone, Manitoba Lotteries kicked in $10,000 for a private concert for the guests which featured Doc Walker, an award winning band. Nothing against Doc Walker, but do these guests really need a private concert? Couldn’t someone have put on a DVD for them or encouraged them to go and spend some money in the local community?

If you can’t think of the connection between crown corporations and sponsoring conferences like this one, don’t worry, there isn’t one. Crown corporations should not have contributed a cent towards the conference as it has nothing to do with their respective mandates.

Most disappointing about the whole issue was Premier Doer’s response in the legislature. When questioned about the expenses, the Premier responded:

“I know that other premiers have had similar criticism. I know that when we went to the Canadian premiers' meeting in Alberta a couple of years ago, there was criticism about some of the investments made in that meeting that Premier Klein hosted and the costs of the meeting.”

If Premier Doer knew Alberta taxpayers were upset over expenses from when the conference that was held there, why wasn’t anything done to protect Manitoba taxpayers when it was our turn?

Besides, when he saw everyone walking around with matching jackets, denim shirts and bags, didn’t he wonder who was paying for it all?

Taxpayers deserve all the details from the conference. However, more importantly, we need some policy changes on Broadway to ensure this doesn't happen again.

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