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Two more sets of gold cards for key Tories

Two more sets of gold cards for key ToriesTreasury Board President Tony Clement reacts to Auditor General Michael Ferguson's latest report at a news conference in Ottawa, Tuesday, Nov.26, 2013. At least two more key Conservatives got gold-embossed business cards, contrary to long-standing government rules against posh stationery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - At least two more key Conservatives got gold-embossed business cards, contrary to long-standing government rules against fancy stationery.

Tony Clement was given his gold cards shortly after being promoted to Treasury Board president in the May 2011 cabinet shuffle, following the election of a Conservative majority.

And colleague Laurie Hawn, an Edmonton MP appointed temporarily to a cabinet committee looking at cost-cutting, got his own set of gold-embossed cards at the same time.

The Arms of Canada on both sets of cards was highlighted in gold foil.

They joined John Baird, whose staff demanded the new foreign affairs minister receive a set of forbidden English-only cards that also violated the rules in several other ways, including having a gold-coloured coat of arms.

Baird's unilingual gold cards were first reported by The Canadian Press, which also obtained documents on business cards for Clement and Hawn, after a request under the Access to Information Act.

Spokespersons for Clement and Hawn say the gold cards were "ordered in error," and say both men wrote personal cheques to reimburse taxpayers after the mistake was discovered.

But neither spokesperson answered repeated requests about when the "error" was discovered, the dates of the personal cheques, and the amounts of the reimbursement, among other questions.

"The cards were ordered in error by a former staff member," Clement spokeswoman Heather Domereckyj said in an email.

"The minister was unaware of this decision. Once the additional costs were brought to the minister's attention, he immediately wrote a personal cheque to cover the cost."

Hawn's special assistant, Jordan Fraser, said: "Mr. Hawn was not aware of the error. Once he became aware of the error, he reimbursed the cost."

Clement's department, the Treasury Board, sets out the rules for all ministers' stationery, which specify that Canada's coat of arms on business cards must be in black. The only colour permitted is the red of a small Canadian flag above the Canada wordmark.

The rules date from 1994, when the Liberal government of Jean Chretien was starting to impose deficit-cutting austerity in the same way the current Conservative government is slashing jobs and programs to balance the books by 2015.

Baird has never acknowledged any "error" for his unilingual, gold-embossed cards, raising questions about a double-standard, since a fellow minister felt compelled to write a personal cheque to ensure government-wide rules — and taxpayers — were respected.

Baird has even joked about the issue in the House of Commons, and defends his unilingual cards by saying he also ordered a second set of bilingual cards that were always available for distribution.

Canada's official-languages commissioner, Graham Fraser, issued a report in August slamming Baird for ignoring language policies, and demanding the English-only cards be dumped.

Fraser's office, which rejected the argument there was no violation because other bilingual cards were also available, said last week the commissioner was still waiting to hear whether Baird will abide by the ruling. Earlier this year, the deputy minister of foreign affairs said Fraser should not even have launched an investigation.

A 2011 invoice for the bilingual Clement-Hawn cards refers to "gold foil business cards" for $715 plus 13 per cent HST, with the quantities blacked out. They were ordered by Mathew Nepssy, Clement's office manager.

Nepssy ordered a second set of gold-foil cards in 2012 for the minister and Hawn at what appears to be the same price as for the 2011 order.

Hawn's cards were current only until Sept. 12, 2012, when he was no longer a member of the Treasury Board committee identified on the gold business card. The committee oversaw a major cost-cutting exercise, hiring management consultant Deloitte Inc. on a $90,000-a-day contract.

About the same time Clement's first order for gold cards was placed in 2011, one of his senior officials was warning Baird's office against breaking the rules.

"The policy centre receives requests through ministers' offices from time to time for variance on paper quality, paper colour, typesetting, ink colour, and inclusion on names or external logos," Grant Johnson of Treasury Board's federal identity program wrote in an email.

"We consistently advise against any practice that does not meet the Treasury Board standards.

"Over the past several decades, Treasury Board has revised these standards in line with government's broader priorities — among the casualties were the costly and difficult practice of using gold foil or full colour reproductions of the Arms of Canada on ministerial stationery."

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