Ministers’ regional offices cost millions, even without regional ministers

Author: James Wood 2020/05/18

Canadians are paying millions of dollars for regional minister’s offices, even though the prime minister stopped appointing regional ministers in 2015.

Documents released to the House of Commons in April show that taxpayers are paying nearly $3 million a year to maintain and staff the now-pointless offices.

“Why are taxpayers paying for regional minister’s offices when we don’t have any regional ministers?” asked Aaron Wudrick, Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “If the prime minister doesn’t think regional ministers are important enough to appoint, why should Canadian taxpayers have to pay for the left- over offices?”

Regional ministers were invented by the government of former prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1985, with the fisheries minister, for example, often doing double duty as the regional minister for Atlantic Canada.

After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015, he axed the positions, but not their costly offices.

What kind of costs? According to the Winnipeg Free Press, between 2009-10 and 2013-14, the costs of the offices spiked from $1.6 million up to $2.7 million with staff expanding from 20 to 30 bureaucrats. 

NDP MP Charlie Angus asked the government about the staffing levels and overall costs for the regional offices in February of this year. In April, the federal government released documents showing annual budgets and estimated costs were just under $3 million for 2019-20.

That means that taxpayers spent $2,994,877 last year for regional ministers’ offices that have no regional ministers in them.

According to Public Services and Procurement Canada, the role of the offices is to provide a secure site and support for on and off-site meetings and events for the prime minister, as well as cabinet ministers and their staff, “while conducting business outside Ottawa.”

“Does the federal government seriously think it needs to spend millions to fully staff expensive offices year- round just in case a minister happens to wander through town?” asked Wudrick. “There’s a better and cheaper way to do this: it’s called a hotel. It’s ridiculous to pay for a permanent office when the government could book hotel meeting rooms as necessary for a fraction of the cost.

“Minister’s regional offices seem to be more about providing jobs for political hacks.”

Currently, 55 people work in the regional offices, including 32 permanent government employees and 23 political staff. The largest offices are in Montreal and Toronto, both of which have five political staff each.

The 23 political staff have come with expenses beyond their pay as well, charging close to $26,000 from the start of 2019 to the late winter of 2020 for various costs linked to minister’s visits, visits from the prime minister, and meetings in Ottawa.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation asked the department if there were any plans to get rid of the costly offices, in light of the economic impacts of COVID-19 and the need to save money, but it has not yet responded.