Thunder Bay

$1.1M offices to benefit women and girls: Patty Hajdu

Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu said the choice to spend $1.1 million on a new suite of offices was about ensuring the portfolio remains a priority for many years to come.
Patty Hajdu is the Minister of Status of Women. (Cathy Alex / CBC)

Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu said the choice to spend $1.1 million on a new suite of offices was about ensuring the portfolio remains a priority for many years to come.

"It was a concrete space with no wiring, no lights, no anything, so this is something that will serve the country in the future in a way that I think will be beneficial to women and girls across the country," Hajdu said Wednesday in an interview that aired on CBC Radio's Up North.

The Canadian Press reported last week that Hajdu signed off on the plan to build new offices for her and her staff — despite being warned the price tag could raise eyebrows when the word got out — so that she could be in the same building as Status of Women Canada, located at 22 Eddy Street, in Gatineau, Que.

They started fast-tracking the project before knowing how they would pay for it, according to documents obtained through the Access to Information Act, or how many people it would need to accommodate.

The issue was that before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed a full-time status of women minister, there had been no need for an office of that size, and for that many ministerial aides, in the building.

That choice was part of his commitment to gender parity around the table, which also came with an increase in staff and salary for those ministers who would otherwise have been considered more junior
ministers of state.

"Governing is actually about making the best decision for the country, despite the fact that sometimes people don't understand those decisions," Hajdu said.

Efficiency the reason for office shuffle

The documents state that having Hajdu in the same building as the agency she leads — as is the standard across government — would help departmental and ministerial operations run more efficiently.

They also show that choice was made over renovating an office at the Canadian Heritage building right across the street for about 64 per cent of the cost, but Hajdu told CBC that space was not big enough.

Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi faced a similar situation because his portfolio had been part of the transport department under the previous government.

The $835,000 he spent on renovations and furniture for his new department — to accommodate more than twice as many employees as the one built for Hajdu, including a deputy minister and public servants — sparked a Conservative attack against the Liberals this spring.

Other ministers faced smaller costs

Other Liberal ministers whose portfolios gained an elevated status when Trudeau formed his cabinet last year were more frugal with their accommodations.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada — formerly known as the industry department — now has three ministers in its building at 235 Queen Street, in downtown Ottawa.

They are Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan and Bardish Chagger, who remains the minister for small business and tourism in addition to her more recently-acquired role as government House Leader this summer.

They did not need to move or create new suites, as Duncan and Chagger moved into offices previously occupied by ministers of state.

They did do some repairs, some painting and installed new workstations to accommodate the additional staff that came with increasing the importance of the portfolios.

James Fitz-Morris, a spokesman for Chagger, said the cost of the renovation contract for all three portfolios was about $170,000, with another $100,000 spent on other changes elsewhere in the building, such as the office of the deputy minister.

It should also be noted that one reason for keeping them in those existing offices, however, was similar to the rationale for building Hajdu a new one.

"Moving off-site from the department would have represented an initial cost, as well as high ongoing costs and logistical problems caused by operating in a different location than the department," Fitz-Morris wrote in an email.

Maryam Monsef, the minister for democratic institutions, is occupying the space used by the former minister of state for democratic reform at 66 Slater Street, where Raymond Rivet, a spokesman for the Privy Council Office, said there was no work done beyond some minor touch-ups to paint and carpets.

Carla Qualtrough, the minister for sport and disabilities, moved into an office at the Department of Canadian Heritage, which her spokeswoman Ashley Michnowski said did not cost a thing.