Politics

Trudeau government spent $416K to renovate new office building

The federal government spent more than $416,000 to renovate a two-year-old office building in downtown Ottawa, including more than $5,000 for 56 coat hooks, according to documents tabled in the House of Commons this week.

More than $5K spent on 56 coat hooks in building that houses Finance and Treasury Board offices

An artist's impression of the James Michael Flaherty Building, which was completed in 2014. (Public Works and Government Services Canada)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government spent more than $416,000 to renovate a two-year-old office building in downtown Ottawa, including paying more than $5,000 for 56 coat hooks.

Among the taxpayer-funded renovations carried out to the 17-floor Elgin Street office tower since the Liberal government came to power: $52,413 to build a bike storage room; $59,451 for new furniture; and $3,426 to "modify the lighting to an existing quiet room" by installing a window film and a dimmer switch.

The largest expenses were $131,640 for acoustical panels and another $75,781 for a "demountable partition."

Some renovations were carried out for safety reasons, such as $4,562 to remove a tripping hazard, or $772 for two convex mirrors to cover an area between the freight elevator and a blind corner.

'A lot less ... at Canadian Tire'

The expenses are detailed in the government's response to an opposition MP's order paper question, tabled in the House of Commons this week.

In the documents that outline $416,067 worth of renovations during the Liberal government's first year in office, it was the spending on coat hooks that raised the eyebrows of opposition critics.

This bike storage room in the new Flaherty building cost taxpayers $52,413. (Department of Finance website)

The Treasury Board, which keeps tabs on government spending, shelled out $5,148 "to supply and install 56 coat hooks in washrooms." The Finance Department spent another $3,254 to supply and install an unspecified number of robe hooks in a "shower facility."

New Democrat MP Daniel Blaikie said he would like an explanation from the government of how 56 coat hooks ended up costing that much.

"You can go pick up 56 coat hooks for a hell of a lot less than $5,000 at the local Canadian Tire, and they actually look pretty good."

Conservative MP Blaine Calkins was surprised to find out how much the government spent.
Conservative MP Blaine Calkins called the federal government spending $400,000 on renovations on a new building 'a shocking waste of taxpayers' money.' (Blaine Calkins/Twitter)

"I have absolutely no idea how something this simple could end up costing taxpayers this much money," he said, pointing out most Canadians would pick up coat hooks at a local hardware store for a few dollars.

While the money was spent after the Liberals came to power, Jean-Luc Ferland, spokesman for Treasury Board President Scott Brison, said some of the renovations were authorized while the Conservatives were still in office.

"The renovations to the James Michael Flaherty Building began under the previous government in early 2015, well before we formed government. None of them applied to the ministers' offices, and they were authorized within each department in accordance with Treasury Board policies."

Ferland could not say whether the coat hooks, for example, were authorized under the Liberal or the Conservative government.

Alain Belle-Isle, spokesman for the Treasury Board, said the nature of the Flaherty building contributed to the costs.

"The renovations include things such as addressing tripping hazards identified after the building was completed, and improving sound insulation in shared workspaces. 

"The highly secure nature and constant use of facilities such as the Flaherty Building normally result in additional costs due to requirements such as security supervision for after-hours work."

Finance and Treasury Board offices

The James Michael Flaherty building, named after the now-deceased former Conservative finance minister who oversaw a government-wide cost-cutting exercise to balance the budget, is leased to the federal government. It houses an estimated 2,600 federal public servants who work for the Finance Department and Treasury Board as well as the offices of cabinet ministers Bill Morneau and Scott Brison.

The building opened in 2014.

Pierre-Alain Bujold, spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada, which handles real estate for the federal government, said the renovations were part of the government's goal of providing a "safe, healthy and productive work environment" for public servants.

"Based on their experience in the building over the past two years, the tenants and the landlord identified improvements that could be made to make the work environment more efficient and secure and allow federal public servants to work smarter and greener in their service to Canadians," he wrote.

'You can go pick up 56 coat hooks for a hell of a lot less than $5,000 at the local Canadian Tire,' New Democrat MP Daniel Blaikie said. (Daniel Blaikie/Twitter)

Calkins, however, said spending more than $400,000 in renovations on a new building is "a shocking waste of taxpayers' money" and part of a bigger problem.

"The shocking part isn't that they are making changes. The shocking part is that nobody is actually asking the question 'How much is it going to cost and is it value for money?'"

Blaikie also questioned why the federal government spent so much on renovating a new building.

"It's just poor planning if you have to do $400,000 worth of work on it afterwards," he said. "I think that people expect that when you build a new building that you're going to be able to use it without that kind of major work for some time."

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

About the Author

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.

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