POLITICS

Pricey PM Gifts To Go To National Capital Commission

12/21/2011 04:57 EST | Updated 02/19/2012 05:12 EST
AFP/Getty Images

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.

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.

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