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Governments buy the darndest things

by Catherine Morrison

In addition to the things you might expect governments to buy, like grosses of paper clips and truckloads of computers, there are those purchases that might strike the unthinking outsider as, well, odd.

Take the purchase of 840 ladies’ handbags that the Canadian Forces is about to make. Hello! Ladies’ handbags? Ladies’ handbags in black leather, 10.25 inches by 5.5 inches with a shoulder strap, to be exact. These will be part of the service dress uniform worn by those of the 5,600 women in the Canadian Forces who work in an office environment. The last order for these “very durable” bags came in at a price of $72.44 each, says David Laister, director of Soldier Systems at the Department of National Defence. “We get good prices,” says Laister, who is in charge of everything Canadian Forces personnel “carries, consumes, uses and wears.”

Or how about the rain suits the RCMP is buying for bicycle patrols that will be part of the force policing the G8 Summit meeting in Kananaskis Country in Alberta this June? Security operations, handled jointly by the RCMP and the Calgary Police Force, have the stated objective of not only the safety of international leaders, but also protection of the environment of this pristine mountain locale.

That would be a factor in having bicycle patrols for the G8 Summit: They’re environmentally friendly, points out RCMP spokesman Paul Marsh. Compared to a fleet of squad cars, or even battalions of officers mounted on their signature but (let’s face it) voluminously waste-producing steeds, bicycles do seem an environmentally responsible choice.

Bicycle patrols have long been a feature of RCMP community policing, says Marsh. Bikes are not only environmentally friendly, they are highly maneuverable as well, allowing officers to get where they are needed quickly, where a squad car might get held up in traffic. Besides, Marsh says, “Bicycles are a healthy way for officers to carry out the Force’s mandate.”

So the RCMP is ordering 265 rain jackets and 630 pairs of rain pants for its G8 bicycle patrol – after all, it can be damp in the Rockies in June. But why, you may ask, more than twice as many pants as jackets? Well, as the Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) contact for this Request for Proposal (RFP) explained patiently, pants wear out faster than jackets. Check out the suits in your own closets; it’s the same thing, except you’re probably not sloshing around on a bicycle in your pants, protecting the leaders of the Western world.

And what about the RFP for a standing offer to deliver 12,000 bales of hay (and a backup one for 4,000 bales) to “various locations throughout Canadian Forces Base Gagetown training area” between April and November of this year? It seems that the hay, which must weigh between 30 to 40 pounds a bale, is to be used for erosion and sediment control. This has got to be one rare type of purchase, however. There’s apparently not even an appropriate category for it on MERX – it’s listed under Miscellaneous Office Equipment.

Bicycle patrols, erosion and sediment control – it’s good to see everyday evidence of green purchasing and practices in the public sector. Speaking of green practices, here’s an interesting acquisition being made by Environment Canada: officials there have recently contracted the Appraisal Institute of Canada to deliver seminars on appraising ecological gifts.

An ecological gift or “Ecogift” is a donation of ecologically sensitive land to a province or municipality under Environment Canada’s Ecological Gift Program (www.ec.gc.ca/press), which has been in effect since 1995. Landowners receive federal and provincial tax breaks for such donations. According to Environment Canada, to date Canadian citizens and corporations have donated an area “approaching the size of Bruce Peninsula National Park in Ontario.”

The tax value of these gifts is calculated on the basis of the fair market value of the land and must be certified by the Minister of the Environment. Because changes announced in the 2000 federal budget enhanced the tax advantages for land donors, it might be expected that the program will enjoy an upsurge in popularity. Following these changes, Environment Canada established a new Appraisal Review and Determination Process. In conjunction with the new process, the two-day course trains appraisers, members of the environmental community – including recipients such as Ducks Unlimited Canada, Nature Conservancy of Canada and local land trusts – and donors themselves, according to Rachel Labelle, spokesperson for PWGSC’s Western Region.

Catherine Morrison, a writer based in Chelsea, Quebec, has been published in the Ottawa Citizen and the Globe and Mail's print and online editions, as well as in Canadian Consumer, Asia Pacific Magazine, the Edmonton Journal and C.A.R.P. Magazine. She was a full-time writer/broadcaster for CBC Network Television and CBC TV and Radio, Winnipeg and a contributing editor and columnist for Winnipeg Magazine.

Summit intends to make unusual and interesting public sector purchases the subject of a regular column. If you have news of a purchase that fits the bill, please contact us at: (800) 575-1146, fax us at: (613) 688-0767, or email: info@summitconnects.com




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