Pricey PM gifts to go to National Capital Commission

A new policy takes effect in the new year that will see all the pricey gifts forfeited by the prime minister turned over to the National Capital Commission.

NCC says galleries and museums may be interested in forfeited gifts

The King of Saudi Arabia presented Canada with ruby and diamond jewelry. (CBC)

A new policy takes effect in the new year that will see all the pricey gifts forfeited by the prime minister turned over to the National Capital Commission.

Under the Accountability Act, government officials must declare all gifts over $200 to the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner. Gifts worth more than $1,000 must be forfeited to the Crown — but without any regulations to explain what should happen to all those presents, the gift pile started to build up in the attic of 24 Sussex Drive.

After years of not having any policy in place for what to do with the items, Stephen Harper's office asked the NCC to draft new rules that would see several objects donated to museums or displayed in official residences. "We will look at whether or not we can re-use those in the official residences or whether or not they need to be distributed elsewhere or stored," said NCC spokeswoman Katherine Keyes.

Forfeited gifts

The prime minister's office forfeited several expensive items in 2011, including:

  • Six Baccarat crystal wine glasses in a display case that were presented to the Harpers by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, at the G8 summit in France.
  • A large polychromatic ceramic sculpture of a sea horse, which was presented to Harper by the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff.
  • A large soapstone carving of a woman with a baby on her back. The soapstone is from the Baker Lake quarry, and the carving was presented to the PM by former Nunavut MLA Glen McLean during the prime minister's tour of the North.
  • A silver falcon statue perched on a silver base with clear, red, green and blue crystals. The statue was presented by the prime minister of Kuwait during an official visit to Ottawa.

Keyes said the new policy is something that fits well with the NCC's existing mandate, which includes managing the Crown collection.

"The Crown collection is pieces that tell the story of Canada via … both physical pieces of art [and] furniture," Keyes said. 

She said some of the forfeited gifts may not be appropriate for the Crown collection, but she said they still have "part of the Canadian story to tell."

Keyes says the NCC will also stay in contact with galleries and museums that might be interested in obtaining some of the items.

Xavier Gelinas, the curator of political history at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, visited 24 Sussex Drive and chose a dozen items that he thought provided the best sampling of gifts from around the world and across Canada.

Among them is a silver sculpture called Wings of Possibility by Wojtek Biczysko, which was a gift to the prime minister from the Canadian Polish Congress. He also selected a ruby and diamond jewelry set from the King of Saudi Arabia, a pen from a pope and a tusk from a narwhal whale that was given to the prime minister during a northern tour.

"They could serve at some point to be displayed and to highlight either Mr. Harper's present career, or Canadian diplomatic history in the current years," he said.

"Diplomatic gifts are an important tangible symbol of diplomatic history," he said. "Otherwise you have to deal with treaties and pacts, which are not very fashionable to the eye."

While the new rules provide guidelines for the handling of gifts to the prime minister, there are still no rules for what cabinet ministers and other government officials should do with their forfeited gifts.