More than 70% of Canada 150 swag made outside the country

The Canadian government is spending more than $2 million on swag to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary. But CBC News has learned more than 70 per cent of it was manufactured outside of Canada.

Government spent more than $2M on clothing and other Canada Day merchandise made overseas

The Canadian government is handing out more than just flags to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary. But most of it wasn't made in Canada. (Canadian Press)

The Canadian government is spending more than $2 million on swag to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary, but more than 70 per cent of it was manufactured outside of Canada, CBC News has learned.

Pins made in China. Ball caps from Bangladesh. Even the 6,200 Canada 150 hockey pucks bought by the Canadian Heritage department were made in the United States.

Overall, the Canadian government has spent nearly $1.5 million to buy a variety of items manufactured outside of Canada for Canada Day — everything from flags and pins, to cellphone cleaning cloths, T-shirts and tote bags.

Foam glow sticks from China, for example, cost the government nearly $300,000.

By comparison, Public Services and Procurement Canada, which does bulk purchasing for the federal government's departments and agencies, says it spent nearly $600,000 on goods manufactured inside Canada, including $439,778 on hand-held flags.

The government argues that international trade agreements don't allow it to restrict the competition for government contracts to Canadian companies or manufacturers — even when it comes to Canada 150 merchandise.

Opposition MPs, however, are questioning why the government can't find a way to ensure that more of the spending on Canada Day merchandise goes to goods manufactured in Canada.

Some of the Canada 150 items given to MPs offices to hand out. (MP Rachel Blaney's office)

NDP MP Rachel Blaney says $1.5 million in government spending could have helped a lot of Canadian companies.

"I think it is devastating news and I think it is specifically devastating to Canadian companies," she said.

"We know, across Canada, we have a lot of amazing innovators and people that are more than capable of preparing for Canadians the very things that we're handing out daily."

The government could structure the tenders to give Canadian manufacturers a better shot at winning the contracts, Blaney said. "It is a choice of this government. They can make sure that there's criteria that keeps some of these very important contracts within the country."

'People do look'

Kevin Waugh, Conservative MP for Saskatoon-Grasswood, said he bought some of the things his office is giving out from local businesses.

"People do look, actually, at where the item comes from. They look to see if it is Taiwan, if it is Germany, if it is China. And if it says Canada, they're very appreciative that we have bought locally and used our local suppliers."

Waugh said he wants to see a change in the rules so that next year, more of the things the federal government buys to celebrate Canada Day will be made in Canada.

"It's important to support local and national businesses, and particularly in a year when we are celebrating 150 years of Confederation," he said.

Canadian companies should have been given the right of first refusal for Canada 150 contracts, Waugh said.

"Everybody wants Canadian on this particular day and this year."

NDP MP Rachel Blaney says the nearly $1.5 million the government spent on Canada 150 items manufactured overseas could have helped Canadian companies. (CPAC)

While it's not the first time the government has purchased Canada Day merchandise manufactured overseas, it may be the first time that Canadians know just how much was made outside Canada.

Shortly before Parliament rose for the summer, the government quietly tabled its response to a question put on the order paper by Conservative MP Michael Cooper.

Public Services and Procurement Canada spent the most, purchasing $1.2 million worth of goods that included plastic pins, cellphone cleaning cloths, miscellaneous clothing with a Canada 150 logo, glow sticks, coffee mugs and beach balls.

The second-highest spender was Global Affairs, which bought $135,996 worth of Canada 150 swag from around the world — everything from banners and business cards, to flags from Finland and foam fingers from England.

The Canadian Heritage department was next with $60,666 in spending on merchandise made outside Canada, while Parks Canada spent $28,027 on zipper pulls and pins made in China.

China clear winner

In total, the federal government bought Canada 150 merchandise from 53 different countries.

However, China easily outstrips every other nation when it comes to the amount spent by the Canadian government, with a total of $1.15 million worth of purchases coming from that country. Pakistan comes in second, with $104,505 in merchandise, while the United States is third with $53,105.

T-shirts manufactured in mix of five countries — the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua and El Salvador — was in fourth place, with $37,086 in spending, while Mexico came fifth with a total bill of $9,823.

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh would like to see the government change the system to give Canadian companies more of a chance at contracts for Canada Day items. (Conservative Party of Canada)

Many of the items bought were doled out to members of Parliament and senators across the country.

A memo from Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, released under the Access to Information Act, spells out the annual allotment of Canadian promotional material for each MP and senator, as well as additional material to mark Canada's 150th anniversary.

For example, each senator is entitled to one Canada 150 nylon flag, 500 Canada 150 paper hand flags, three gold VIP pins, 25 soft metal pins, 200 plastic pins, 100 screen cleaners and 300 waterless tattoos.

MPs, however, are entitled to larger allotments: five Canada 150 nylon flags, 2,000 Canada 150 paper hand flags, 10 gold VIP pins, 50 soft metal pins, 500 plastic pins, 100 screen cleaners and 2,000 waterless tattoos.

Waugh said there is so much demand for Canada 150 merchandise that MPs offices are finding their allotments are falling short.

"This week in particular, there's been a run on those items and most MPs offices, I would think, are nearly out of the 150 [items]."

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca


Elizabeth Thompson

Senior reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.

With files from Dean Beeby


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