03/07/2012 11:05 EST | Updated 05/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Taxpayers group cites Ag Canada for waste over tobacco transition plan

OTTAWA - A federal program that spent millions paying farmers to get out of the tobacco business only to see their numbers rise is this year's winner of a government waste award.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation gave their annual worst of government waste award to Agriculture Canada for its 2008-2009 $284 million tobacco transition program, which the auditor general found increased the number of tobacco farmers, rather than reduce it.

Federation's director Gregory Thomas called the department the top-cat of tobacco.

"More than half the 1,000 recipients of fat federal cheques were not actually active tobacco farmers," he said.

Some farmers ended up taking money to get out of the business, then shifted their land and equipment to relatives who kept on growing tobacco.

Tobacco production doubled the next year, the auditor general found in a report last year.

A spokeswoman for the minister of agriculture said the program is under review.

“This program’s parameters include an audit to ensure that provincial tobacco licenses have not been issued to participants," Meagan Murdoch said in an e-mail.

“If the audit shows that any recipients violated any of these terms and conditions, they will be forced to repay the full amount with interest.”

It's the 14th year that the federation has handed out the awards, nicknamed the Teddies after a bureaucrat infamous for extravagant expense claims.

The awards are gilded pig statuettes awarded in four categories; municipal waste, provincial waste, federal waste and lifetime achievement.

Alberta won the provincial award for paying politicians to serve on a committee that hasn't met in years.

The taxpayers federation says politicians in the province get paid an additional $1,000 to sit on legislative committees and pointed out that one committee, which has 21 members, hasn't met since 2008.

Montreal was the municipal winner for snowplows caught on camera clearing snow-free sidewalks. The video went viral on YouTube, receiving almost 400,000 views.

Former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe took the lifetime achievement award for allegedly billing taxpayers for partisan political activities.

Duceppe was called before his former Commons colleagues last month to explain why he paid the Bloc's director-general from his parliamentary budget for more than six years.

The committee examining the issue has yet to release its report.

"The idea that he would have the gall to do that when they're getting a $23 million subsidy, the vote tax that was specifically designed for that purpose — to support the political operations of a political party — it shows how much contempt he shows not just for taxpayers in Canada but also for taxpayers in Quebec," Thomas said.

Thomas also ripped Duceppe for qualifying for millions in federal taxpayer dollars for his pension despite being devoted to Quebec separation.