LILLEY: Crazy spending on little things like rubber ducks adds up fast

Rubber ducks, socks, umbrellas and even a PlayStation complete with NHL Centre Ice — these are some of the items found in newly-released documents of spending for promotional items at government departments. Don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t government waste.

Last December, the opposition Conservatives submitted an order paper question to the government asking about, “the purchase of promotional products for handouts or giveaways at trade shows, conferences, and other events, since June 1, 2018.” Order paper questions are much more formal than what we see during question period and the government is obliged to answer, even when it can be embarrassing.

Like the Communication Security Establishment, effectively Canada’s digital spies, spending $17,010 to purchase 4,774 rubber ducks. Why does an organization that spends its days intercepting foreign intelligence need to buy almost 5,000 rubber ducks?

Apparently to help them recruit new staff.

The documents tabled in Parliament on Jan. 27 state that the rubber ducks were for “Career Fairs, Colleges and Universities.” I’m not sure how offering a student a rubber duck is going to get them to consider life as a digital spy.

Other items the CSE purchased to give away in their recruitment drives included webcam cover patches — so maybe people are spying on you through your webcam. Those webcam covers set the taxpayer back $15,899 for the CSE but were also handed out by the Royal Canadian Mint, the Business Development Bank, the RCMP, Public Services and Procurement Canada and Treasury Board.

Seriously, why are all these government departments buying up and handing out webcam covers? Beyond the cost, I want to know what they know that the rest of us should know.

Treasury Board handed out laptop bags, albeit cheap ones at $12 apiece. Agriculture Canada bought 100,000 branded cocktail napkins for $3,726 and they bought branded coasters. I’m sensing a theme here.

They also paid for gift packages that included chocolate loonies and maple syrup.

Officials at Canadian Heritage also bought maple syrup, but you can’t find out how much they paid. The folks at the Heritage department think that you are good enough to pay for their 36 bottles of maple syrup but not good enough to know what it cost.

Given that the bottles were for a “Senior Management meeting TV5 Monde,” I’m going to guess they cost a pretty penny. This meeting also saw 40 scarves with custom embroidery handed out to executives at the co-operative French broadcaster that Canada funds alongside France and other countries.

It really is shocking that Canadian Heritage felt they didn’t have to release the costs for these items. This may seem like a small thing but it’s not. This was a question asked by an elected Member of Parliament.

Keeping an eye on how the government spends money, your money, is one of the main jobs of every MP and the refusal to release this information is an affront to Parliament.

Other questions that come out of this would include why the Business Development Bank has spent $20,000 over 18 months on golf balls or why Export Development has spent $8,735 on socks? And while we are at it, what is so stressful about working at the Public Service Commission that they need to spend $1,903 on elephant stress relievers?

I mean, the employees there can already go blow off some steam on that nice PlayStation with the NHL Centre Ice game.

I know many of these are small purchases and some people may ask what the big deal is. Well, across the total public service, with more than 400,000 federal employees, these purchases start to add up. National Defence for example spent $721,669 in 18 months, I’m sure some of it was needed and some of it was foolish. Now spread that across other departments.

That’s why it’s import to keep an eye on them and all purchases and why departments shouldn’t be able to hide what they spend.