The piece reveals, via a Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation (CTF) access-to-information request, that between March and September 2020, Global Affairs Canada spent over $41,000 on “custom furniture designed by and purchased from Ottawa-based Christopher Solar Designs” for use in the office of the Canadian High Commissioner in New Zealand, the official residence at Canada’s embassy in Tokyo, the High Commission in Nairobi, and the Canadian embassy in Brazil.
I understand that some readers might not consider diplomacy particularly important, and might not believe that ambassadors and high commissioners benefit from being able to make a good impression when they host world leaders.
So let’s set aside the argument that diplomacy costs money, and that first impressions matter.
And let’s even set aside the fact that these purchases were made during a country-wide lock-down, and therefore likely helped keep a Canadian company in business (and in less need of direct government assistance).
What really irks me is a quotation in the article from the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation, Franco Terrazzano, and the reporter’s acceptance of it at face value.
Terrazzano says: “They could have gone to a bunch of different stores where their offices are located and spent significantly less money,” to which the reporter adds: “The CTF points out that a visit to a Tokyo IKEA would have saved the Canadian government thousands of dollars.”
The problem here is that both suggestions are bogus. A federal official cannot just walk into a store, purchase furniture costing thousands of dollars, and ship it to an embassy overseas (or walk into a Tokyo IKEA and do the same thing).
There is a mountain of paperwork that has to take place first to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest at play (what if the minister’s sister owns the store, for example?)
My best guess is that a competitive bidding process resulted in Christopher Solar Designs winning a contract to supply certain embassies with office furniture.
But I shouldn’t have to guess, because the reporter should have told us so, or otherwise, in the article.
If there was a contract, it would come with inflated costs for the seller because of the hours and hours of paperwork that Christopher Solar Designs would have completed to make its successful bid.
(Government procurement is so complicated that bidders often hire companies to help them with their proposals.)
We compel businesses to go through this cumbersome, bureaucratic process because too many Canadians – cheered on by groups like the CTF – think that Ottawa is inherently corrupt, and the only way to prove them wrong is to make sure that every government purchase comes with an overwhelming paper trail.
In Ottawa, you therefore have a choice:
(a) you can be more efficient (by enabling officials to buy furniture from the Tokyo IKEA on their personal credit cards and deal with groups like the CTF accusing you of cronyism and corruption); or
(b) you can be more accountable (by buying furniture from pre-approved suppliers that is marked up to account for the contracting costs of a transparent procurement process).
The CTF’s call for “less waste and accountable government” in the current political environment is therefore all but impossible.
One necessarily comes at the expense of the other.
In sum, I’m all for holding government to account – and it really isn’t hard to find things about the Trudeau Liberals to criticize – but this article does nothing of the sort.
For more on the Government of Canada’s procurement policies see here, but good luck understanding it all…
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