OTTAWA — The federal government spent just over $400,000 on the state funeral of former finance minister Jim Flaherty, while it spent only $2,571 on late Liberal deputy prime minister Herb Gray’s service.
Documents obtained by the Huffington Post Canada through the Access to Information Act show taxpayers have already spent $324,589 on Flaherty’s service, with another $80,000 still to be paid out.
Invoices for the April 16 event in Toronto and an earlier visitation in Whitby, Ont., show audio production in the Cathedral Church of St. James, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a moving eulogy, was the largest expense – at $60,815. The rental of large screens and chairs was a close second at $60,620.
Other costs included:
- $3,378 for two days of “personal security for the family” from a private firm LTD & Associates Inc.
- $6,130 on flowers, including two $800 urn arrangements;
- $1,130 on vehicles for the “practice” funeral;
- $422 to print and mount two portraits of Flaherty, including a 24x30 framed photo.
- $5,424 for six Greyhound 50-person buses to ferry people from the St. James Cathedral to the Arcadian Court.
- $46,616 for a reception at the Arcadian Court, of which $17,560 was for an open bar, with the rest going toward the room rental and 6,000 canapés.
- $15,880.74 to rent the cathedral, including $10,000 for the building and the West Lawn, and $1,800 for the choir.
- $36,963.51 to the W.C. Town Funeral Chapel in Whitby, where there was a private ceremony and visitation. This included $10,464 for the funeral service, $3,695 for a Dominion Maple ceremonial casket with a replaceable interior, $475 cremation fee, $9,435 for limousine service, and $650 to transport the body from Ottawa.
The Department of Canadian Heritage, which planned the event, enlisted three other government departments for help with the elaborate affair.
The protocol experts at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development were given a $40,000 contract to “conduct a comprehensive invitation process” for the memorial service.
Public Works was given $38,000 to pay for staff overtime and travel to install the risers, platforms and flags at the Toronto funeral. But they blew through that budget and informed head of the Ceremonial and Protocol service at Canadian Heritage a few days after the service that “it would be safe to assume the cost for the TO portion will increase by at least $40K.”
The RCMP was given a $10,000 budget (although it claimed only $6,857.20) to help pay for 11 Mounties to serve as pallbearers and vigil guards. RCMP officers from at least eight different offices were asked to head to Toronto, including officers from detachments in Hamilton/Niagara; Milton, Ont.; the Toronto airport’s drug enforcement unit in Etobicoke, and the special investigations anti-corruption unit in Ottawa. Several Mounties drove to Toronto by carpool, and all, including the Toronto-based personnel, expensed two nights at the Fairmont Royal York, which served as a base for organizers.
The Royal York bill, for the three-day use of two meeting rooms, including a media filing room, with Internet access, a desktop PC, a phone line and several printers, was $23,126.80.
Staff appear to have worked round-the-clock organizing the massive event.
One public servant went grocery shopping the evening of April 14 and early the following day for pop and creamers, muffins, ham and fruit for that day’s visitation at the Abilities Centre in Whitby.
A $1,515.75 invoice for translation also notes the use of “after-hours emergency service.” Celtic calligrapher Brian Dench, who worked on the memorial service program April 13 and 14, doubled his $300 rate “for immediate response at extreme hours.” The printing shop where 2,000 “20-pager + 4 page cover” funeral programs were produced noted the “rush turnaround” on its $5,864.70 invoice. The government also paid for 2,000 5x8 funeral memorial cards.
The $400,000-price tag does not include costs for the Toronto Police or any travel costs for attendees, such as the Governor General, the prime minister, cabinet ministers and other MPs.
Although Flaherty, who died from an apparent heart attack on April 10, was a member of the Privy Council, he had resigned from his post as finance minister a few weeks earlier and was not automatically entitled to a state funeral.
The elaborate service drew some criticism from those who felt a state funeral should be reserved for governors general, prime ministers and sitting cabinet ministers.
The government, however, noted that the prime minister has the discretion to offer a state funeral to anyone, as Harper had done with former NDP leader Jack Layton in 2011.
The controversy reached new heights, however, when former Liberal deputy prime minister Herb Gray, one of the longest serving members of Parliament (from 1968 to 2002), died on April 21, five days after Flaherty’s service.
Emails obtained by HuffPost show that staff in the department of Canadian Heritage were taken aback by a request from Gray’s assistant for help planning the former cabinet minister’s funeral arrangements.
“Just got a call from Herb Gray’s personal assistant. He wanted to know the protocol procedures and what he is “entitled” to with regards to his passing,” a Heritage Canada employee wrote.
Later, the Heritage Canada manager who a week earlier ran around getting food for Flaherty’s visitation, wrote his team to say Gray’s assistant wanted to know if the department offered any assistance with funeral arrangements because Gray had been accorded the title “Right Honourable.”
“[H]e asked if the Department could issue invitations to the funeral, help with seating plans and have people on site at the funeral to direct guests to their seats.”
“I … indicated we could provide advice for invitations, but that we do not manage invitation lists, and general advice on seating plans.”
The manager noted that only two Canadians held the title of Right Honourable without having been prime minister, governor general or chief justice of the Supreme Court: Gray and former Progressive Conservative minister Don Mazankowski. He noted that a third person who died in 2013, Martial Asselin, held the title but said that, aside from lowering the flag at half-mast, no “support” had been offered.
Later that afternoon, however, Heritage Minister Shelly Glover’s office weighed in to direct staff to offer the Gray family help co-ordinating the invitations and logistical advice about seating plans and precedence, as well as on-site support to greet and seat guests.
The department organized a four-person motorcycle police escort for Gray’s service at a cost of $2,274.98. Taxpayers also footed the $296.06 bill for flowers after an employee asked: “Do we need to pay for the flowers?”
The federal government typically sends flowers on behalf of the government and the people of Canada while the House of Commons and the Senate send a bouquet each. The flower costs for the two chambers were not included in the department’s invoices.
Read Flaherty's funeral program:
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Flaherty balanced stimulus programs and fiscal management in efforts to keep Canada on an even keel during the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Canada emerged from that crisis as a bastion of economic stability among its G8 peers.
The ever prudent finance minister said the penny would be no more during the delivery of his 2012 budget speech,saying the move would save Canadians some $11 million a year. “The penny is a currency without any currency in Canada,” he said in the speech.
Flaherty cut the GST rate twice during his time as finance minister, first cutting it from seven per cent to six per cent in the 2006 budget. He cut that rate again in 2008 to its current five per cent.
The Conservatives, who inherited budgetary surpluses from the Liberals, fell into the red when they introduced a host of stimulus programs that helped the country bounce back from recession. Flaherty promised incessantly that his government would be able to fix the books by the 2015 election. In the delivery of his 2014 budget speech, he announced that the country was technically out of deficit, taking into account the $3-billion contingency fund.
Flaherty took measures four times in four years to rein in Canada’s overheated housing market to bring it back from the brink of a bubble. He publicly took on banks that he felt were exercising what he believed to be irresponsible lending practices and made it harder for people to take on mortgages that could leave them in over their heads.
In 2006, Flaherty made a controversial move to end tax exemptions for income trusts and said they’d be taxed the same way as corporations. In doing so, he broke a campaign promise to corporate Canada, who thought they had found a new shelter in trusts. The TSX lost more than 10 per cent of its value in the ensuing months.
Before his time in federal office, Jim Flaherty was a soldier in Ontario’s Common Sense Revolution under Premier Mike Harris. He held various roles including labour minister, attorney general and finance minister, during a time of tense union politics.
The Whitby-Oshawa MP introduced the popular Tax-Free Savings Accounts, giving Canadians another incentive to save for retirement. The program was lauded when launched in the 2008 budget and Flaherty promised to double the contribution limit once the budget was balanced.
Flaherty was instrumental in the 2007 introduction of the Registered Disability Savings Plan, a long-term plan to help Canadians with disabilities and their families save for a secure future. The usually stoic politician was emotional during a 2011 announcement of a government review of the program. His son John suffers a learning disability and has participated in the Special Olympics.
The tax back plan was introduced in the recession-era budget of 2009 to put a little more cash in consumers’ wallets and stimulate the all-important housing and construction industries.
Flaherty’s memorable moves are not all in the past. During his last days in office he very publicly and candidly questioned a Conservative election promise to introduce a tax policy would allow one spouse to transfer part of their income to a lower earning partner in order to avoid falling into a higher tax bracket. He asked whether the Conservative campaign pledge to allow income splitting would benefit all Canadians, a question that is sure to be central to the next election campaign in 2015, given critics' assertions that income-splitting would mostly benefit the wealthy.