City councillors spent $150 on a roast pig, almost $1,500 on curling tickets and almost $5,800 on pottery supplies in 2008 as part of more than $13,000 in spending on gifts and donations for ward residents or community groups.
Winnipeg's elected officials also bought cameras, a GPS unit and an iPhone for official city business last year, according to credit-card receipts obtained by the Free Press following an access-to-information request.
Most of the spending appears to conform to city regulations and all of it is subject to review by the city clerk's department.
But the fact the details of the spending have only come to light following a formal access-to-information request has led Mayor Sam Katz to renew his call for more transparency when it comes to spending decisions by city council members.
"When you don't make everything public, people get suspicious," Katz said in an interview on Monday, repeating his desire to see the city publish the complete spending records of all 16 members of council.
Winnipeg's 15 city councillors are allowed to spend $70,000 a year on the likes of ward activities, office supplies and salaries for executive assistants. They can also spend about $13,000 more on per-capita grants in each ward.
Standing committee chairs, meanwhile, can spend up to $7,000 on committee business, while the mayor's office has a total budget of $825,000, including staff salaries.
Although all expenses incurred by politicians are reviewed internally, only summaries are made public, as opposed to specific details of each receipt.
In February, when city council narrowly voted to ask the province to beef up conflict-of-interest rules for Winnipeg, Katz supported a rival motion to make these details more available. At the time, the mayor accused unnamed councillors of using taxpayer money to support political events and eat in expensive restaurants.
A subsequent Free Press investigation, published on Monday, found no evidence of the political spending, but plenty of restaurant expenses. Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, for example, spent almost $5,500 on business meals and catered meetings in 2008, while St. Vital Coun. Gord Steeves and Old Kildonan Coun. Mike O'Shaughnessy each spent approximately $3,600.
Since only nine councillors have credit cards, the full picture of councillor spending has not emerged, said Colin Craig, the Manitoba director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federations.
"We have part of the story here from some councillors, but nothing from the rest. Every expense should be disclosed," said Craig, who's calling on Winnipeg to publish a record of expense incurred by councillors, as Toronto has started doing on its own website.
"Toronto taxpayers can go online and see actual receipts. It's a great resource," he said.
To see how Toronto accounts for councillor expenses, visit www.toronto.ca/city_council/salaries.htm#expense.
From plaques to pork
Selected spending by city councillors in 2008, according to credit-card receipts obtained under a freedom-of-information request:
Bill Clement (Charleswood-Tuxedo)
$1,472.40 for four passes to the 2008 Tim Hortons Brier.
Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry)
$192.87 at McNally Robinson Booksellers on gift certificates for elementary schools in her ward.
$52.91 on flowers for a constituent's 80th birthday.
Harry Lazarenko (Mynarski)
$3,044.33 on a Sony digital camera, a Canon G10 camera, a memory stick and flash unit, an Olympus camera lens and a digital recorder for the Riverbank Management committee.
$963.16 on a Garmin GPS with a four-year warranty.
Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas)
$3,337.59 at Rona, Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Lee Valley for tools and lumber for the Main Street Clay Centre.
$2,441.60 at Sounding Stone for donated pottery wheels, electric kiln and installation.
$713.68 on a kiln wheel, pottery supplies and calligraphy pens for The Edge community art project.
$337.89 at Wal-Mart on silent auction prizes for Original Filipino Seniors Association and Aboriginal Youth Night.
$150 on ballroom dancing lessons as a gift for the CEC Gala Event.
$202.64 at the MLCC for protocol gifts.
Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre)
$413.25 at Rogers for an iPhone and two cases.
$393.89 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery shop for silent auction prizes.
$235.33 at Party Stuff to rent a candy floss machine for the Ellice Street Festival.
$150 on a roasted pig for Magdaragad Performance Group Banquet.
$66.30 on two custom-made T-shirts.
$24 for a Jazz Winnipeg ticket.
Gord Steeves (St. Vital)
$1,000 at Chapters on gift certificates for St. Vital junior high school scholarships.
$950.00 at Chapters on gift cards for councillors' citizenship awards.
$270 for Le Cercle Moliere's annual lobster feast.
Justin Swandel (St. Norbert)
$300 on two tickets to Western Canada Aviation Museum gala dinner.
$200 for a membership in the Canada West Foundation.
$34.09 at Amazon.com for a copy of Richard Florida's Who's Your City?
Russ Wyatt (Transcona)
$687.95 at But Is It Art Framing for plaques.