99 stupid things the government spent your money on

Snowmobile clubs, an archery centre and a non-existent bridge
Jason Kirby with Richard Warnica, Gustavo Vieira, Chris Sorensen, Alex Ballingall, Martin Patriquin and Ken Macqueen

Canada’s finances may be the envy of the world, but the bar is awfully low these days. Whether it’s Ottawa, the provinces or municipalities, governments across the country face horrendous deficits. We must tighten our belts, say the politicians. Austerity and cutbacks are the order of the day.

Only, you wouldn’t know it looking at this list. What follows is but a slice of the silly, wasteful, craven and often outright stupid ways governments at all levels spent taxpayers’ money over the last year. To find our 99 items, Maclean’s scoured press releases and auditor generals’ reports, contacted watchdog groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and waded through news reports, looking for examples where the money was either spent or announced in 2011. We also included a handful of egregious instances of waste that only came to light in the past 12 months, even if the actual cash was doled out in previous years.

Not everyone will agree with all these items being on the list. Some will justify handouts to companies and sports teams as necessary to “promote economic activity,” or they’ll say a camping program for new immigrants was a nice thing to do. Sure, it would be great if we could afford everything, but at a time when government spending is under the knife, when services and jobs are being cut, it’s clear many of those with their hands on the public purse have yet to come to terms with Canada’s new fiscal reality.

Here is a sample of questionable spending on subsidies and infrastructure Check us out tomorrow to see more stupid things your government did with your money .  

BIG MONEY PLAYERS — He shoots, he scores another subsidy

1 Bailouts on ice: Abbotsford, B.C., dished out $1.3 million to the owners of the Abbotsford Heat AHL hockey team as part of a 10-year agreement guaranteeing the money-losing team that it won’t actually suffer any financial losses. The problem is that nobody buys tickets. They might as well. One way or the other the people of Abbotsford are going to pay.

2 Snow job: In 2011 the federal government unleashed a blizzard of funds on Quebec snowmobile clubs—nine groups received a windfall of at least $1.5 million. Over the past three years Stephen Harper’s government has pumped $6 million into Quebec snowmobile clubs. Not to be outdone, the province of Ontario set aside $500,000 for loop trails of its own.

3 Putt putt: Residents of London, Ont., who don’t golf are still picking up more than a few rounds for those who do. Since 2007, two of the city’s three taxpayer-owned courses lost more than $620,000 amid a glut of public and private courses in the region.

4 Broken arrow: What do you do with an unused curling rink in a Prairie community of 250, namely, Viscount, Sask.? If you’re the stimulus-happy federal government, you offer up $9,000 to convert it into an “upgraded, energy efficient” archery centre.

5 Sand trap: The City of Windsor spent $1 million to rebuild sand traps at the Roseland Golf and Curling Club, which the city owns.

6 Offside: Vancouver taxpayers paid more than $2 million for the Canucks’ Stanley Cup run and riot. Last we checked, the Canucks were a wildly profitable private company (playoff ticket sales earned the team $44 million) that doesn’t need taxpayers to subsidize a party for its fans.

7 Ottawa put $5 million toward marketing and celebrating the 2012 Grey Cup in Toronto.

8 B.C. paid $550,000 for a Grey Cup party in Vancouver.

9 Hydro Ottawa paid $28,450 for Senators hockey tickets while trying to raise rates to cover increasing “business costs.”

10 Auditors in Winnipeg found six semi-private golf clubs pay just $1 a year to lease public land, even as city-owned courses racked up $8 million in debt.

11 The City of Ottawa spent $21,000 on a five-minute video on how to use bike lanes.

PAVED WITH GOLD — Cashing in on the infrastructure boom

12 A bridge elsewhere: New Brunswick taxpayers must cough up $4 million to fix a bridge 3,600 km away. The province guaranteed $70 million worth of loans for Miramichi-based Atcon Group, the general contractor for the $182-million Deh Cho Bridge project in the Northwest Territories. Then Atcon was removed from the project and went into receivership. An audit said the province must repair work done by Atcon.

13 Gearing down: P.E.I. spent $330,000 building a parking lot for trucks for times when the Confederation Bridge is closed due to stormy weather, but it never gets used because it’s in the middle of nowhere. During a windstorm in October when the bridge was closed for 36 hours, only three trucks used the lot. The rest parked on the road.

14 The watchers: Infrastructure in Quebec is so shabby that the government paid $170,000 per month for guards to keep heavy trucks off Montreal’s Mercier Bridge 24 hours a day.

15 A bridge too far: Ottawa is spending $1.16 million to design a pedestrian bridge over a busy highway, even though no decision has been made on whether the bridge is actually needed. (It depends on future plans for a nearby stadium.) The province is widening the highway and wants to know the proposed bridge’s dimensions, in case it ever gets built.

16 Quebec paid $1.2 million to send transport officials overseas to study the latest in engineering technology, including trips to Burkina Faso and Algeria.

17 In its rush to qualify for federal stimulus dollars, the City of Ottawa spent $1.8 million to buy land it would have eventually gotten for free under a “right-of-way” arrangement with the landowner.

18 The feds forked out $268,000 for a footbridge in Forestville, Que.