Renovations to cabinet ministers' offices cost $1.6 million over past 4 years

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has spent more than $1.6 million on furniture, renovations and artwork for cabinet ministers' offices since it came to power, CBC News has learned.

Critics say Trudeau government's priorities are misplaced

The government spent $7,111 to paint Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office when he came to power. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has spent more than $1.6 million on furniture, renovations and artwork for cabinet ministers' offices since it came to power, CBC News has learned.

An analysis of documents tabled in the House of Commons shows that in 2019 alone, the government spent $364,928 on costs ranging from $68 for towels for Finance Minister Bill Morneau's office to $82,859 to set up an office for Bernadette Jordan and her staff when Trudeau created the new ministry of rural economic development.

Michael Barrett, the Conservative ethics critic, said the government shouldn't be renovating ministerial offices while many Canadians are having trouble making ends meet.

"We have Liberal cabinet ministers with champagne and caviar tastes while not paying any attention to the concerns of Canadians who are $200 away from bankruptcy," he said.

'Misdirected priorities'

New Democratic Party House Leader Peter Julian said the renovation costs are part of "a misdirected sense of priorities."

"Canadians are really suffering. There are a lot of needs that aren't being met," he said. "First Nations communities that are struggling, affordable housing, pharmacare, dental care. None of those things being provided for Canadians and at the same time the Liberal government seems to spending a lot of money on itself and on its pet projects."

The government defends the renovations, calling them "modest."

"These projects are done following Treasury Board policies and are modest, cost-effective and allow the minister and their staff to work in functioning offices in the 21st century," said Emily Harris, director of communications for Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand. "Each respective department is responsible for determining its priorities and for the associated costs."

The information on renovations to cabinet ministers' offices is contained in the government's answers to four separate parliamentary order paper questions, submitted systematically by Conservative MPs since Trudeau's government was first elected.

Comparable figures for former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper's government are not available. The Conservatives drafted their questions to cover only the period since Trudeau took office; opposition MPs did not pose similar questions on the order paper when the Conservatives were in power.

Michael Barrett, Conservative ethics critic, said the government shouldn't be spending money on renovating cabinet minister's offices while it is running a deficit. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The first time the Conservatives asked the question, the answers revealed that the government had spent $835,000 shortly after the Liberals came to power to set up offices for former Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi and his deputy minister; $450,734 of that sum was for Sohi's office.

None of the renovations since have even come close to that amount.

Some of last year's renovations to cabinet offices took advantage of Parliament's recess for the summer and the election.

"Public Services and Procurement Canada led an initiative to identify ministerial offices across government in need of refurbishment," the department wrote in its answer.

"This initiative addressed spaces that required modest repairs such as paint and carpet replacement. There were 13 offices in the National Capital Area and three new offices for potential new ministers that were refurbished during the recess period."

In the documents tabled in Parliament, the creation of new ministries and aging offices were two of the most common explanations cited for renovation work in 2019.

Jordan's office saw the most expensive work

The $82,859 to set up Jordan's rural economic development offices was the most expensive renovation.

"No office space existed within Infrastructure Canada for the minister and her staff so four closed offices, 10 cubicles, a kitchen, a boardroom and a reception area were created to accommodate her staff," the government wrote.

The offices that Jordan now occupies at Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard saw the second most expensive renovation, at $75,106 — $66,168 for furniture alone. The renovation was approved by the deputy minister and carried out during the parliamentary recess before Jordan was named minister.

"The suite that houses the minister and ministerial staff is extremely outdated and has not been updated in approximately 20 years," the department wrote. "As a part of the department's overall workplace renewal strategy, a decision was made to refresh and modernize the minister's suite at a time when the office would be less occupied due to the changes in personnel."

NDP House Leader Peter Julian said the government's priorities are misplaced. (Julian Tang/The Canadian Press)

The age of office fixtures was also cited by the justice department, which spent $54,939 on its renovation. Most of that money went to replacing the carpet.

"As the carpet in the ministerial offices had not been changed in over 20 years, a change was requested on the grounds of health and safety concerns for employees."

Renovations to the public service and procurement minister's office in Gatineau cost $39,779, including nearly $5,000 to clean the carpet. Another $34,528 bought new cabinet doors, new door handles and a new laminate counter, and paid to disconnect and reconnect a sink and dishwasher, patch and paint walls and install new trim between the carpet and laminate flooring.

Updating the Treasury Board president's office over the summer cost $14,545.

"Minister's offices are subject to wear and tear over the course of single or multiple terms," the department wrote.

Some ministerial offices have seen few renovations. The government spent $7,111 to paint the prime minister's office when Trudeau first came to power, and $2,000 on moving costs. The prime minister's office hasn't reported any money spent on renovations since then.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau's office hasn't spent a cent.

"Minor changes made to the office spaces were completed with internal staff using existing furniture that was available in the inventory," his department wrote in response to the Conservatives' first question in 2016.

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.