Annual Teddy Awards

Open the mailbox or gaze at the floor under the mail slot, and there they are — taunting us to take a peek. At one time or another, we have all received the insidious flyers as well as some other piece of so-called “important” information from our local MP. Invariably, the only concern confronting recipients of the junk mail is how quickly it can be tossed into a recycling bin. 

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s 12th annual Teddy Waste Awards recognized MP Junk Mail — Inglorious Mailers as the winning federal nominee for what it is — mostly unwanted, unread and too costly.

“The federal mail-out program allows MPs to send flyers to no more than 10 per cent of the households of any riding in the country,” said Colin Craig in  the CTF press release announcing the recipients of the Teddies, which are a spoof using the model of the annual Academy Awards — for that matter, any award ceremony — although the message they carry is very disconcerting to Canadians, who expect their tax dollars to be wisely spent. 

“The flyers are in addition to riding-wide MP flyers and have increased in cost from $5.9 million in 2005-06 to $10 million in 2009-09. Oddly enough, as our deficit skyrocketed, MPs hiked up their usage of these flyers to tell us about everything but the deficit.”

The Teddies, named after Ted Weatherill, a former federal bureaucrat who was fired for outrageous expenses in 1999, proclaimed MP junk mail as the winner under the category of Best Children’s Comedy.”

“For adults not familiar with this genre of comedy,” according to the CTF press release, “a Conservative flyer can be expected to show Michael Ignatieff hugging criminals, while a Liberal flyer might show Stephen Harper kicking a puppy. Even though Conservatives have a head start in dominating this category, opposition parties are also in contention and gaining fast.”

While the annual awards have an amusing twist, there is nothing funny about the waste that plagues governments across the land.

Another federal nominee was Unused Hotel Rooms — Diplomats in Wonderland under the category Best Set that was Never Used. Canadian organizers for the 2008 Francophonie Summit in Québec City spent $1.5 million on empty hotel rooms.

“With 5,525 surplus rooms over the conference’s duration at an average cost of $271 per night, the government had enough space to host the entire National Assembly and Senate of France with more than 2,000 rooms to spare for their supporting cast.”

Perhaps the most bizarre nominee under the category Best Effects on the Silver Smokescreen  was Silver Buyback — Elizabeth, the Silver Age. “In a royal display of waste, federal officials spent nearly $100,000 in commoners’ money to buy back silver and china antiques wrongly sold in an online auction for less than $4,000. The silver and other items at the governor general’s residence were on loan from Buckingham Palace, but unsuspecting Public Works bureaucrats failed to pay $500 for an appraisal and accidentally sold what did not belong to Canada.” It cost $1,500 in appraisals afterwards and more than $95,000 to buy back the imperial decorations.

Then there was the $1.4 million spent only to discover $20 million in missing gold wasn’t actually missing. The fiasco of the Royal Mint Investigation — Land of the (Not Really) Lost Gold was nominated by the CTF for Best Visual Auditing. 

The Lifetime Achievement Teddy went to Gold-Plated MP Pension. “The headache felt after politicians leave the rhetorical binge of Parliament is not felt by those who enjoyed the party,” the press release explained, “but by taxpayers forced to pick up the tab for their MP’s gold-plated pensions. While most workers in the private sector have no generous pensions to look to — relying on savings, CPP or small pensions — MPs and most of the public-sector guzzle taxpayers’ money with extravagant defined-benefit pension plans. A backbench MP with absolutely no extra bonuses would need to work 10 years to receive a pension today of $46,000. Unfortunately, what happens in Ottawa, doesn’t stay in Ottawa.”

After the 2008 federal election, a new round of 65 departing MPs were awarded lucrative pensions, including a high of $167,051 a year for ex-PM Paul Martin. The outgoing MPs were eligible to collect a total of $52.4 million in pensions if they lived to age 75, with taxpayers paying $4 for every dollar contributed by MPs to the plan.

“Oddly enough, it is the only government program that all parties in Ottawa seem to agree on,” said Craig.

Manitoba was not spared by the Teddies. Peguis Band Council Pay — Last of the Millionaire Chiefs was nominated for “best adapted scam-play. “Nominated by band whistleblowers who brought secret documents to the CTF, councillors paid themselves — in off-reserve taxable equivalent dollars — between $265,000 and $429,000 per year for the task of overseeing a reserve of 7,200 people.”

The CTF claimed if the prime minister was to be paid a salary based on each person he represented, he would earn $2 billion a year.

When the band salaries were exposed, the Peguis chief was unapologetic, saying his council passed a resolution earlier in 2009 that capped the chief's salary at $170,000 and that of band councillors at $140,000. Still, the chief would be making significantly more than Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz’s base salary of $114,052 earned to oversee the needs of nearly 700,000 citizens.

Among the municipal nominations for a Teddy was Winnipeg Councillor’s Satellite Radio — Star Trek in the category Best 

Expense-fiction. “Freedom of Information requests (by the CTF) showed Mike O’Shaughnessy spent $739 on a satellite radio and channel subscriptions at taxpayers’ expense. Although this councillor can now receive signals on various frequencies from space, he cannot transmit any justification to taxpayers. When it comes to beaming money out of our wallets, let’s hope that the remake is better than the original series.”

Perhaps our elected officials will get the message doled out by the annual Teddies to keep their junk mail out of our mail boxes and at the same time save trees and taxpayers’ money, as well as  a lot of grief heaped upon the recipients of the flyers.