Feds spent millions on knickknacks, promo handouts in 2017

The federal government shelled out millions last year on branded knickknacks, treats and promotions handed out at trade shows, conferences and other events.

The goodies ranged from rubber ducks and Rubix cubes, to fancy coaster sets and caseloads of maple syrup.

Among the myriad Canada 150 baubles the feds handed out were more than 5.8 million rub-on tattoos, 150,000 glow sticks, 2.6 million flags and 20,000 luggage tags, according to documents tabled in Parliament this week – although the exact total costs government-wide weren’t disclosed.

Some of the weirder trinkets included 1,500 rubber ducks, which the Communications Security Establishment spent $5,375 on to hand out at recruiting events.

The Business Development Bank of Canada spent $1,244 on 408 “cowboy boot-shaped mint tin[s],” $2,486 on hot chocolate cubes and $1,390 on 1,000 “tres-chic” softy styli for sponsorships and/or conferences.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission spent $10,847 on “‘nuclear watchdog’ fidget toy dogs” and $27,037 on USB keys, while the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation handed out $4,433 in “Zoomer memberships” as an “incentive to attend” its annual public meeting. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions bought a $1,788 “glass iceberg mountain” for “various events.”

The Privy Council Office also purchased square coasters made out of black “luxury leather” for a first ministers’ meeting, while Library and Archives spent $1,476 on coaster sets for “protocolary visits.” Farm Credit Canada expensed 130 folding lawn chairs for an “industry and customer event,” worth $2,879.

The items and their costs were listed in a document responding to a research question from Conservative MP Arnold Viersen, asking for spending on promo items and handouts procured since September 19, 2016.

Ottawa doled out thousands of dollars worth of maple syrup. Destination Canada purchased 144 bottles for a “sales event,” while the Royal Canadian Mint tapped 50 bottles of the golden liquid for the European bullion distributors conference, totalling $1,750. The Bank of Canada procured another $1,250 worth of “maple syrup/candy sampler[s]” for the Central Bank Executive Summit and Central Bank IT Exchange meeting. The Public Sector Pension Investment board bought $3,050 worth of “maple products” for a “meeting with peers.”

The documents show departments also loved handing out stress balls and other themed stress-relievers. The Public Service Commission bought 1,000 “elephant stress relievers” for $3,507 for “wellness program workshop and activities,” while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency spent $2,503 on “stress cows” and chickens for handouts at its 20th anniversary and to “raise awareness of food safety, animal and plant health in classrooms throughout Alberta and Saskatchewan.”

The Crown corporation Marine Atlantic Inc. also spent $6,335 on anti-stress boats. It also bought $4,237 worth of selfie-sticks and 665 Irving gas cards worth $31,920 for a “spring gas card marketing campaign.”

Health Canada also loved gift card giveaways: it bought $390 in $10 gift cards for McDonalds, Starbucks, Tim Hortons and iTunes to give out for National Public Service week. For National Nursing Week, it handed out $1,068 worth of chocolate bars to nurses.

Branded and specialty pens alone cost the government more than $200,000 for the year.

And the Bank of Canada spent $8,424.15 on 2,000 Rubix cubes to hand out at events like Geek Week Ottawa, and the Cyber SCI Challenges in Ottawa and Montreal.

But the documents don’t provide a detailed picture of either the total spending, nor the total amount of promotional material and related Canadiana handed out to boost the government’s image and brand.

Global Affairs said its own handouts aren’t “systematically tracked in a centralized database,” so it couldn’t respond to the question; although, this isn’t the first time the question has been put to them.

Viersen asked for the same information last year and Global Affairs provided a response for its $149,328 worth of purchases for that year, which included neck ties and cuff links. Heritage Canada did also did not list costs per item this year; last year it spent $1 million.

Other departments didn’t itemize what they purchased or their total costs, citing privacy laws.