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Cabinet ministers allowed to expense iPads

A new federal program is allowing cabinet ministers and senior public servants to expense the cost of iPads, even though MPs can't.

Treasury Board President Stockwell Day says MPs made the wrong call in deciding the popular devices can't be expensed to the taxpayer. The minister carries his iPad everywhere and says a pilot project in his department proved that using iPads saves money by reducing paper and printing costs. Now 15 ministers and their departments are part of the experiment.

The Board of Internal Economy, which manages spending on Parliament Hill, recently ruled that MPs are not allowed to expense iPads, in part because they are not compatible with Microsoft software in MPs' offices.

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"I just think they're wrong on this one," Mr. Day said in an interview. "MPs will account for the equipment that they buy.… They need to look at it again from the point of view of efficiency and cost saving."

As the man in charge of cutting costs, Mr. Day is well aware of optics. He's approved spending cuts to hospitality, booze and travel that are relatively small but project an image of restraint.

Yet Mr. Day insists using taxpayer money on iPads can be justified.

"Nobody's seeing it as a high-end luxury because of the fact it's coming in at a lower cost than most laptops," he said.

Apple Inc. sold nearly 15 million units of its iPad tablet computers in 2010. The device is not marketed as a replacement for laptops, but rather as a lightweight portable option for viewing online sites and other media like books and movies.

Mr. Day acknowledges playing the odd game of Angry Birds on his iPad, but insists the device has replaced the need for him to carry paper briefing material.

The pilot project at Treasury Board was approved last summer. On July 15, 2010, an official in the department called up the Apple Store in Ottawa's Rideau Centre mall and ordered 23 iPads at a cost of $679 each. With accessories and taxes, the bill came in at $20,530.69.

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Mr. Day said the initial pilot project at Treasury Board was deemed a success. He says that using an iPad can save $700 a year per person when contrasted with the cost of paper and a new laptop. The pilot project has been expanded to 15 departments, giving managers the option of buying an iPad or similar device as long as it fits within existing budgets.

Internal Treasury Board documents released through Access to Information show that assessing the "security risks" of the change is part of the pilot project. Treasury Board is one of several departments that were recently targeted by a cyberattack in which hackers were seeking access to financial records.

Mr. Day insists iPads are more secure than paper documents because they can be protected by passwords if they are ever left behind.

NDP MP Pat Martin, normally a critic of government spending, says he agrees with Mr. Day that the devices are great and will ultimately save money.

"Why are we forced to use a horse and buggy when everybody else has got state-of-the-art equipment?" he asked. "I kind of resent that. If it's good enough for cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats, it's good enough for MPs."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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