Federal Liberals spending millions on overtime for communications staff, documents reveal
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was in the spotlight recently after her office spent more than $6,600 on a professional photographer to document her attendance at a Paris climate conference.
OTTAWA – The federal government is spending millions of dollars on overtime for communications staff as it looks to get out its messaging to Canadians, with the largest tabs in the departments of Environment, Finance, Global Affairs, Defence, and the Privy Council Office.
The government also has seven staffers in the Privy Council Office who spend part of their work duties producing videos for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s YouTube channel at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, according to new documents tabled in the House of Commons.
Between early November 2015 and early June 2016, the Liberal government spent nearly $2.3 million on overtime for communication staff, according to the information tabled in response to a question from Conservative MP Larry Miller.
One of the largest was for Environment and Climate Change Canada — $235,538 — mainly because of the United Nations climate conference in Paris in December and the government’s pan-Canadian climate strategy.
“Communications staff have been key players in the government of Canada’s efforts to engage Canadians, and stakeholders, such as youth and Indigenous people, in a discussion about how Canada should fight climate change, supporting the minister at high profile events such as the signing of the Paris climate change agreement, launch of an expert panel to conduct a review of environmental assessment processes, first ministers’ meetings and a federal/provincial/territorial environment ministers’ meeting,” Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said in a written response.
The overtime was paid to people working as communications officers, communications advisers, senior communications advisers, strategic communications advisers, as well as an administrative assistant, executive assistant, executive adviser, senior adviser, team leader, ministerial liaison, proofreader and senior writer.
Communications staff have been key players in the government of Canada’s efforts to engage Canadians, and stakeholders, such as youth and Indigenous people
McKenna was in the spotlight recently after her office spent more than $6,600 on a professional photographer to document her attendance at the Paris conference. She has instructed her office to review the policy.
Global Affairs Canada, which included Foreign Affairs, International Trade and International Development, spent the most, with an overtime bill of $348,624.
About 50 communications staffer positions were included in the bill, with an unnamed person or persons listed as a “strategist” being paid the most, $32,010. The position of “specialist” was a close second, at $31,410.
The Department of National Defence tallied $320,707 in OT costs, including $26,359 for what appears to be one communications officer.
The Privy Council Office, which provides support to the Prime Minister’s Office, spent $150,780 on overtime for communications staff.
The Privy Council Office is also spending tens of thousand of dollars and, on average, using seven employees to produce videos for the prime minister’s YouTube channel, according to separate documents tabled in the Commons.
The staffers helped in development, production, editing, translation and publication of the videos posted on the prime minister’s YouTube channel, says the government’s written response to a question from Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre.
The government spent $27,185 for editing, transcription and other costs on 65 YouTube videos between November and mid-May, about $418 a video.
Staffers were paid $14,321 in salary, plus $1,864 in overtime, the documents show. Another $6,255 went on travel and accommodations while filming and producing the videos.
The documents also show the purchase of two cameras, a Canon for $3,687 and Sony Camcorder for $7,280, along with recorder, microphone, lights, cables and bags.
Additional software and equipment worth more than $86,000 are used in making the videos, although the equipment is used for other PCO video content, and not just the YouTube channel.
The seven staffers who contribute to the YouTube videos only spend a small part of their overall work time on them and have a number of other responsibilities as part of their PCO jobs, said Raymond Rivet, spokesman for the Privy Council Office.
Rivet noted the costs of the YouTube videos were consistent with the previous year under the Conservative government.
“In terms of web/video support, it is important to understand that PCO staff have more responsibilities than simply creating videos. The Privy Council Office supports the Prime Minister in many ways, including managing the digital presence of the Prime Minister and maintaining the Prime Minister’s website,” he said in an email.
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Jason Fekete, Ottawa Citizen Sept 21st 2016