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Twelve cabinet ministers and PM Trudeau dipped into exclusive gift bank in Liberals’ first year

By Marco Vigliotti      

Ministers of natural resources, defence, and justice snatched up the most gifts: documents.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr spent the most at the government's high-end gift bank over the last 12 months, according to recently unveiled documents. The bank offers a range of Canadian mementos for public officials to give to dignitaries. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould were the most frequent customers at the federal government’s high-end gift shop during the Liberals’ first year in power.

Mr. Carr (Winnipeg South Centre, Man.) picked up 32 items valued at $3,567 from the official gift shop between November 2015 and November 2016, while Mr. Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.) took 39 gifts collectively worth $3,463 during that span, according to a list of withdrawals obtained through an access to information request.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould (Vancouver Granville, B.C.) was the next most active shopper, acquiring 19 gifts valued at $3,393, followed by Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough (Delta, B.C.) who picked up 17 items, collectively worth $1,006, and Immigration Minister John McCallum (Markham-Thornhill, Ont.), who picked up 11 gifts valued at $1,356.

The Heritage Department runs the so-called Gift Bank, which offers a range of Canadian mementos for cabinet ministers and other high-ranking public servants to hand out to visiting dignitaries or those they travel to visit.

The names and countries of gift recipients were withheld by the department to protect foreign relations.

The task of picking up items from the shop usually, if not always, falls to staffers.

The bank features items like soapstone bear figures, Haida platters, sealskin agendas from Nunavut, an aluminum owl, a mantle clock made from recycled glass, pewter vases, glass inukshuks, wood-carved letter openers, maple syrup from Quebec, and maple leaf cufflinks from Canadian jewelry producer Birks.

The cufflinks were among the most popular gifts, with about 17 pairs grabbed from the shelves, including four each taken by Mr. McCallum and Mr. Carr.

Jordan Owens, a spokesperson for Mr. Sajjan, said the minister’s office couldn’t divulge the gift recipients prior to press time as Mr. Sajjan and his staff were in the United Kingdom for a meeting of defence ministers from the main contributors to the military coalition fighting the Islamic State.

As part of the duties of defence minister, Mr. Sajjan “regularly visits with counterparts and foreign dignitaries at conferences, during country visits, and in bilateral meetings, where a gift exchange is part of the diplomatic protocol,” she said in a statement.

For the justice minister’s part, spokesperson Valérie Gervais said in a statement that 10 gifts were provided as part of Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s official business, and that additional gifts that were planned but not ultimately given were later returned. In one case, the items were damaged before presentation and had to be replaced.

“The gifts are generally presented as part of the minister’s international engagements, including her visits to New Zealand and Australia, as well as in meetings with foreign dignitaries including the ambassador of the United States in Canada and the French minister of justice,” she said, adding that Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s use of the gift bank was conducted in accordance with the relevant rules.

Most expensive gifts withdrawn from the government’s gift bank from November 2015 to November 2016:

  • Whale sculpture ($500); presented by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould
  • Soapstone bear x3 ($414.98 each); presented by Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould
  • Birch bark and quill basket ($395); presented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • Soapstone bear ($325); presented by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr
  • Smiling Bear ($300); presented by Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould
  • Desk box ($299); presented by Health Minister Jane Philpott
  • Mother and child inukshuk ($260); presented by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr
  • Inuit bear sculpture ($235); presented by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr
  • Silver-plated bowls ($220); presented by Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould
  • Oval cauldron vase x2 ($219); presented by Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin
  • Oval cauldron vase ($219); presented by Parliamentary Secretary to the Natural Resources Minister Kim Rudd

Located in Gatineau, Que., the shop was used by 13 cabinet ministers in the last 12 months, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), who only made one pick-up, a $395 birch bark and quill basket. The selection was made on Nov. 25, 2015, according to the record provided by the Heritage Department.

Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet were sworn into office on Nov. 4, 2015.

Gift bank items on display at the Lester B. Pearson Building, Global Affairs Canada’s headquarters, at Doors Open Ottawa, on June 4. The Hill Times photograph by Kristen Shane

Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains (Mississauga-Malton, Ont.) took away 10 gifts valued at $859, Small Business and Tourism Minister and Government House Leader Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.) withdrew three items worth $261, and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (Regina-Wascana, Sask.) grabbed six gifts that came in at $206.

The other cabinet ministers who made withdrawals were: Science Minister Kirsty Duncan (Etobicoke North, Ont.), six gifts worth $604; Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.), five gifts worth $585; MaryAnn Mihychuk (Kildonan-St. Paul, Man.), three gifts at $399; and Health Minister Jane Philpott (Markham-Stouffville, Ont.), eight gifts valued at $894.

Aside from cabinet members, the only other Liberal MP to frequent the bank was Kim Rudd (Northumberland-Peterborough South, Ont.), who serves as parliamentary secretary to the natural resources minister.

She withdrew seven gifts, collectively valued at $874.

Altogether, Liberal MPs grabbed roughly more than $17,500 in gifts over the past year.

Conservative leadership candidate Steven Blaney (Bellechasse-Les Etchemins-Lévis, Que.) was the lone opposition MP who used the bank during that time, picking up an $11.95 coaster. The gift was recorded under the Veterans Affairs Department.

Mr. Blaney served as the minister of veterans affairs from 2011 to 2013, when he left the post to take over as minister of public safety.

He left that position when the Liberals assumed office.

Requests for comment sent to the offices of Mr. Carr, Ms. Qualtrough, Mr. Blaney, and the prime minister were not returned before press time.

Seventeen Conservative cabinet ministers used the shop between 2012 and 2014, with the most generous member being then-finance minister Joe Oliver, who picked up 62 gifts valued at $12,000, the Canadian Press reported in 2014.

Non-elected officials who used the bank over the last 12 months include Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, Commissioner of Competition John Pecman, and Dr. Siddika Mithani, president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, as well as several deputy ministers.

mvigliotti@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times 

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add comments from the justice minister’s office received after initial publication. 

Shopping spree

High-ranking public servants who made withdrawals from the government’s gift bank from November 2015 to November 2016.

  • Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin – four gifts worth $702
  • Commissioner of Competition John Pecman – one gift at $58
  • President of the Public Health Agency of Canada Dr. Siddika Mithani – one gift at $95
  • Director of Public Prosecutions (Justice Canada) Brian Saunders – four gifts at $355
  • Chief Executive Officer of the National Capital Commission Mark Kristmanson – two gifts at $260
  • Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Gregory Taylor (last day is Friday) – one gift at $65
  • Chair of the Canadian International Trade Tribunal Stephen A. Leach (resigned in late April) – two gifts at $180
  • Deputy Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development John Knubley – two gifts at $192
  • ‎Deputy Minister of Labour Lori Sterling – six gifts at $760
  • Associate Deputy Minister of Justice Pierre Legault (now retired) – one gift worth $65
  • ‎Assistant Deputy Minister at Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada Robert Orr – five gifts worth $185
  • Commissioner of the Canada Revenue Agency (now retired) Andrew Treusch – one gift at $150
  • Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage Graham Flack – one gift at $98
  • Associate Deputy Minister of Finance Timothy Sargent (now deputy minister for international trade) – two gifts at $217
  • Superintendent of Financial Institutions Jeremy Rudin – one gift at $88
  • Associate Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Michael Keenan (now deputy minister of transport) – two gifts at $159
  • Deputy Minister of Public Safety François Guimont (now retired) – one gift at $65

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