Pull Strings For Tower Flags

Public officials have pulled strings to get Peace Tower flags for a governor of New Jersey, the widow of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, and employees of the Department of Public Works, according to Access To Information records. The official public waiting list for the coveted flags is 74 years’ long.

“At the Minister’s request, flags may be offered to Canadians that are not on the waiting list,” said Michele LaRose, spokesperson for the public works department. “Examples are military personnel or athletes, or for events of an exceptional nature.”

Records indicate officials routinely jumped the queue to award flags in unusual circumstances. Renata Ford, widow of the former Toronto mayor, was given a Peace Tower flag in 2016. Then-New Jersey governor Chris Christie was presented with a specially-boxed flag in 2014 following a private meeting with then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Former defence minister Peter MacKay sought a ministerial exemption to give a flag to a skating rink in his Nova Scotia constituency in 2013.

“As the custodian of the Parliamentary Precinct, the Minister of Public Works is responsible for managing the flags located on Parliament Hill including their distribution to Canadians,” said LaRose. “Canadian flags flown at half-mast from the Peace Tower were traditionally given to families of Canadian dignitaries who died in office. The distribution has since progressed beyond ceremonial events to allow for other recipients.” Deserving recipients included:

  • • the family of Corp. Nathan Cirillo, shot on duty at the National War Memorial in 2014;
  • • the Town of Lac-Mégantic, Que., following a fiery train derailment that killed 47 people;
  • • the husband of Anne Marie Desloges, a Canadian diplomat killed in a 2013 terrorist attack on a Nairobi shopping mall.

However, government files disclose heavy lobbying by legislators and federal employees for flags to be distributed to retiring coworkers, hometown high schools, Legion branches, armouries, Army & Navy clubs and fire departments. One MP requested a Peace Tower flag to be auctioned at a hospital fundraiser in Orangeville, Ont. Another received a flag for the Bognor, Ont. Community Centre Canada Day committee. A staffer in Prime Minister Harper’s office in 2012 gave a flag for former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.

In 2014, then-Public Works Minister Diane Finley gave a flag to an unidentified taxpayer who mailed a $13,000 cheque to reduce the national debt. “Donations help in the reduction of our national debt, thus contributing to the economic prosperity of our country,” wrote Finley. “Your concern for the economic future of Canada is greatly appreciated. Enclosed is an official receipt. Also, in recognition of your generous donation to the Crown, it gives me great pleasure as a proud Canadian to present you with the enclosed Canadian flag which was flown from the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill.”

Liberal MP John McKay (Scarborough-Guildwood, Ont.), chair of the Commons public safety committee, requested a flag for an Afghan War combat veteran in his riding. “These flags are hugely popular and a highly treasured item,” McKay said in an interview. “These should not be awarded for highly partisan purposes.”

“I have not had a huge number of requests in my representative capacity,” said McKay. “To my mind, they should go to people who have made a significant contribution to the nation’s well-being.”

Flags were also awarded to former Clerk of the Privy Council Wayne Wouters, who retired in 2014, and retired Public Works Minister Judy Foote, appointed last March 20 as Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland & Labrador. “I will need that flag,” wrote one Foote staffer.

Other petitioners apologized for jumping the queue. “I understand that I may be circumventing the process for the requesting the flag and that there is an incredible wait list of very deserving people,” wrote a Statistics Canada manager in 2015. “I am fully aware of the long waiting list for these flag,” noted an MP in a 2012 email.

The Peace Tower flag is changed daily. Flags flown at half-mast in observance of notable deaths were typically provided to families including Hockey Hall of Famer Jean Béliveau’s widow in 2014, and the family of former foreign minister Flora Macdonald who died in 2015 at 89.

By Tom Korski

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