99 stupid things the government spent your money on (II)

Doughnuts, tanning beds and anti-aging products

Yesterday, we brought you items 1-18, a sample of questionable spending on subsidies and infrastructure. Here we look at public waste on dubious food-related and job creation programs. Check us out tomorrow to see even more stupid things your government did with your money .

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.

CUT THE FAT — Food tastes better when someone else pays. Cheers!

19 There’s lots of talk in Ottawa about cutting fat, but since when did that mean government getting into the weight-loss business? In October, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) invested $249,000 in Newtopia, a company based in Vaughan that offers genetic testing for obesity and online weight-loss counselling. Founder Jeff Ruby was ecstatic: “Banks can give us money, but the government of Canada provides great credibility.”

20 In July, Ottawa poured $190,000 into New Brunswick doughnut maker Mrs. Dunster’s—famous for making its doughnuts out of pure lard. Meanwhile, the provincial government is putting together a program to fight obesity.

21 The region of Durham, Ont., threw a $75,000 party to celebrate a new garbage incinerator, complete with air-conditioned tents and sushi.

22 You can never have too much cheese, or too many cheese companies, apparently. Last year the federal government invested nearly $700,000 in a pair of start-up fromageries. One of the new businesses, in the town of Asbestos, will produce “cow’s and goat’s milk specialty cheeses.”

23 A 2011 audit of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation uncovered millions in questionable contract spending, such as the $90,000 the agency spent for Christmas parties in 2008 and 2009, complete with a chocolate fountain, crème brûlée, grilled calamari and mussels.

24 P.E.I. served up $65,000 to produce a series of YouTube videos starring celebrity chef Michael Smith to promote local food. However, most of the eight-minute clips have attracted fewer than 1,500 viewers.

25 Toronto spent $87,000 to determine whether city-owned facilities could dedicate half their purchasing budgets to food produced in Ontario—the answer was ‘No’.

26 Despite the millions of dollars provinces spend to prop up their wine industries, the feds handed $1.05 million to Calona Wines of B.C. to double the output of its boxed wines, even though 80 per cent of the wine it sells is imported.

JOB CREATION — Take this job and shovel money into it

27 New Brunswick taxpayers learned they would have to pay $11 million over a failed job-creation plan involving a Norwegian solar company. The province owes Umoe Solar the money for land and equipment after plans for a $600-million solar panel plant fell through in May 2010. Three months earlier, the federal government had said it would grant the company $3 million to support R & D work.

28 Ontario’s green energy plan was supposed to boost employment, but according to the province’s auditor general each new “green job” that’s created costs the province between $100,000 and $300,000, and also results in the loss of two to four other jobs as a result of higher electricity prices.

29 Quebec gave IQT, a U.S.firm, $670,000 to set up two call centres in the province in 2000, but in July, ITQ shut its doors, laying off 1,200 employees. The reason: Nashville offered it $1.5 million to move south.

30 Ottawa awarded $87,000 to PurGenesis Technologies of Montreal to commercialize its “line of anti-aging products based on certified organically grown baby spinach leaves.” The money followed an earlier government “contribution” of $282,000 in 2009.

31 Several towns in Nova Scotia learned last year they’d have to cough up $790,000 after a controversial regional development agency went bust in 2010—mere months after Ottawa pumped in $80,000, claiming the South West Shore Development Authority contributed to “the cultural vitality and quality of life of [the] community.

32 Even as Rio Tinto Alcan and Alcoa said they would invest $15 billion to modernize operations in Quebec, the province and Ottawa still gave the industry $125,000 for a trade show.

33 The feds granted a company called Solarpro $54,000 to commercialize tanning beds.

34 An audit found that a $284-million program to get Ontario tobacco farmers out of the industry in 2008 actually funnelled half the money to people who didn’t farm tobacco in the first place.

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