The cost of those taxpayer-funded Conservative government exercises in economic accountability and self-promotion has passed $250,000 – and will rise further.
The delivery of the Harper government's third, glossy report card on its stimulus plan last Sept. 28 cost more than $143,000, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press.
That's on top of $108,000 spent for a similar report in June, and doesn't include the cost of the final report last month.
The September event in Saint John – the third of four “report cards” to Canadians on the government's massive stimulus program – was a slightly less showy affair than the previous “Town Hall” meeting in Cambridge, Ont., on June 11. Still, receipts obtained under an Access to Information request indicate it was $35,000 more expensive.
The New Brunswick event featured Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty riding a locomotive into a Saint John rail yard, where they were met by an invited audience and local and national media.
The Prime Minister used the occasion to announce that 90 per cent of the funding for 2009-10 infrastructure projects had been committed, with more than 7,500 projects on the drawing board and 4,000 under way. The report card said the government plan would create or maintain 220,000 jobs by the end of 2010.
A spokesman in the Prime Minister's Office defended the report and its associated costs as an exercise in accountability.
“It's quite a bit of taxpayer money that's being spent to stimulate the economy and the Canadian people have every right to know exactly how that progress is being achieved, how many projects are starting, where that money is going, what kind of success it's had,” Andrew MacDougall said Tuesday.
However, Parliament's independent budget officer, Kevin Page, found that he was unable to corroborate the government numbers due to an absence of accessible documentation on real cash outlays for projects and the specific job numbers created by them.
Receipts for the Sept. 28 event reveal that more than $55,000 was spent hiring temporary workers at the Finance Department, more than $40,000 went to printing costs for the 136-page report booklets, and $5,600 was spent on four photos used in the report.
A Finance spokesman said the 20-hour-per-day production schedule contributed to the high cost of the report.
The invoices don't include the cost of the use by Mr. Harper and his staff of the government's Challenger jet to fly from Ottawa to Saint John, but do include almost $8,000 for hotel and travel charged by other staff.
“Of course they entail costs, whether it's the production of the reports,” Mr. MacDougall said. “But that's what we needed to do to provide that extra accountability that this money that was being spent in a time of extraordinary global uncertainty was spent wisely and visibly.”
Liberals demanded four quarterly reports last January as the price of their support for the Conservative's big-spending, recession-fighting budget.
The government used the Opposition demand to stage high-profile releases in June and September. Once the threat of a fall election had been averted, the fourth and last of the reports was simply handed out to reporters during Mr. Harper's flight to China on Dec. 8.
“This is what happens when politicians play silly partisan games,” said Kevin Gaudet of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation.
“[Liberal Leader Michael]Ignatieff makes a peculiar, sabre-rattling, we-demand-report-cards request. Harper accedes to his demands and, in doing it, uses it as an occasion to trumpet their own horn. In the end, it's the taxpayers who get screwed one way or another.”
Mr. MacDougall said the unusual, inflight delivery of the final report in December was a function of the Prime Minister's busy international travel schedule at the end of the year.
The PMO spokesman said he was not aware of any further such report cards being in the works as the second year of the two-year stimulus package rolls out.
Liberal MP Brian Murphy said Tuesday that the Liberals may indeed have been “hoisted on their own petard” by the report-card demand, but they'd expected Mr. Harper to simply update the House of Commons on progress.
Mr. Murphy, a New Brunswick MP, said he was barred from entering the Saint John event and watched as a parade of local Tories entered the rail yard that day.
“It shows a complete disrespect for Parliament. ... The pretence that this was some kind of take-it-to-the-nation tour is just not true. It was a Conservative photo-op.”