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Information Buffet

January 22, 2018
Information Buffet

Over the past while I’ve been filing lots of freedom of information (FOI) requests with various government bodies and gathering interesting tidbits of information.

This post includes a buffet of FOI responses and information on a wide array of issues that some taxpayers may find of interest.

1) Union Time, Taxpayers’ Dime

A lot of taxpayers don’t realize it, but we often have to pay for both sides of the proverbial ‘bargaining table’ when it comes to government negotiations with their unions – whether we’re talking contract negotiations, handling grievances and other matters.

In some cases, unions reimburse the government when their members (government employees) have to take time off work for union business. In other cases, the government eats the cost.

The latter makes no sense, especially when you consider the main purpose of mandatory union dues is so that unions can pay for their own activities – such as bargaining.

I filed a freedom of information request recently with the City of Calgary to see how much taxpayers are paying each year in union expenses. Here are the stats: 

2015:   $88,663.89  (covering 2,624 hours, six different unions)
2016:   $95,800.70  (covering 2,715 hours, four different unions)

Perhaps if government employee unions weren’t so busy spending a fortune on ads to try to influence our elections (i.e. trying to get candidates elected who will agree to generous contracts), they could use those dollars to pay for their activities?

If that happened, perhaps the city could use the money to reduce its property tax increases or continue to deliver a service that has been cut – for example, see this Mark Milke column about skating being cut on Prince’s Island – click here.

To see the FOI response – click here

2) Revenge of the Federal Building

Several weeks back I was walking through the Federal Building in Edmonton – the office tower near the legislature that was slated to be the home of the ill-fated “sky palace.”

While walking through the main floor of the building I couldn’t help but notice the elaborate “living walls” (plants growing all over the walls) in the lobby area. This picture shows part of the installation:

Photo credit: CBC

According to, these “living walls” are “the largest biofilter in Alberta, covering 2,400 square feet.”

Needless to say, I wondered how much the whole system cost to install and maintain.

The provincial government informed me that the cost for the project was $836,740 and that figure included preventative maintenance over the first two years. However, a few years after the project was complete, the government had to buy a special crane to maintain the installation – at a cost of $85,000.26.

Unfortunately, the government doesn’t track the amount of time and money that government employees have to spend on maintenance of the installation.

One has to wonder how much could have been saved if employees brought in their favourite plant?

To see the FOI response – click here


3) No Emissions Review for Bombardier

In 2017, the federal government changed the process – halfway through – for TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline project. Suddenly, Ottawa wanted to also review “upstream and downstream” emissions for the project.

We all know what happened – TransCanada pulled the plug on the project, taking thousands of jobs and billions in tax revenues with them.

Following that decision, I asked the federal government about “upstream and downstream” emissions reviews it conducted prior to giving Bombardier and Ford close to $500 million in early 2017. Ottawa informed me that there was no review for Ford and materials related to Bombardier’s review were confidential. (Click here to read a column I wrote about the matter and here for the news release)

Sceptical that there was anything behind Ottawa’s review for Bombardier, I tweaked the language in my first request and refilled it. Ottawa eventually responded that there was no “upstream and downstream” review for Bombardier after all. How nice.

To see the access to information response – click here


4) Carbon Tax Costs Majority of Albertans More

A little over a week ago, I had a column in the Calgary Sun that discusses how, despite the carbon tax rebates, the province’s new carbon tax is actually costing Albertans a lot of money (and some people their jobs).

I noted some data from University of Calgary Associate Professor of Economics Trevor Tombe that shows an estimated 55% of Alberta households are paying more as a result of the carbon tax (including those who don’t receive a rebate).

Here is a link to Professor Tombe’s data – click here

(Note: I added the orange highlights and summary box at the bottom)

P.S.: Shout out to Trevor Tombe for sharing the data!


5) Siksika Flooding Info

A lot of people from the Siksika First Nation are still without permanent housing as a result of the 2013 flood. (Incredible isn’t it? The flood was nearly five years ago!)

I’ve met a few times with a whistleblower from the community who has concerns about how public funds have been used in his community (he’s getting sued by the band, you can contact him through his GoFundMe page if you’d like to learn more ­– click here).

One piece of information I helped him obtain is some data that compares the Siksika First Nation’s flood recovery with the Stony Nakoda Nation’s flood recovery. Here is the data the government provided me back on October 19, 2017:

   Stoney Nakoda       Siksika   
Number of houses deemed uninhabitable  13 136
Number of houses impacted 539 138
Number of houses repaired 526 2
Number of houses replaced 13 13
Number of residents impacted (approx.) 3,403 799
Number of members permanently displaced
(not able to return to their homes)
0 720
Number of members still displaced 0 720

Needless to say, the story isn’t as simple as looking at the numbers in the table above. There may well be good reasons for the differences. I’m just posting the data publicly in case anyone else can use it.

To see the FOI response – click here

That's it for this buffet, if you have any questions or comments, I can be reached at


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