Harper gets 49 big gifts in 2009

OTTAWA — It may come with a few headaches, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s job is also a gift that keeps giving.

OTTAWA — It may come with a few headaches, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s job is also a gift that keeps giving.

Harper declared 49 gifts valued up to $1,000 each for 2009, ranging from a leather-bound 1783 map of the British Territories of Canada and the U.S. — courtesy of President Barack Obama — to a monogrammed bathrobe, towel and slipper set from flamboyant Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The presents included two 18-day free passes to the Canadian National Exhibition from the Toronto fair’s head office in August.

The tickets, even at the CNE’s advance sale price of $33 each, would have modestly exceeded the $1,000 limit on the value of gifts the prime minister and other federal public office holders may accept.

Harper’s media office did not answer an email asking whether he, or his family, used the tickets. The office of the federal conflict of interest and ethics commissioner was closed this week for the holidays, as was the CNE Toronto office.

Harper’s gift tally for 2009 included crystal bookends, four bottles of tequilla, a silver-coated model of the Aztec calendar, sterling silver saki cups and an expensive Prim watch. So far the prime minister has declared 179 gifts for himself and Laureen Harper since 2006.

The first gift Harper declared after taking office was an honorary membership in Ottawa’s exclusive Rideau Club valued at $500.

Since then, it’s been paintings added to paintings, watches to watches, Afghan carpets, expensive wine and liquor, volumes of unique books, designer dishes, designer clothing, crystal vases, porcelain vases, stone carvings and a cornucopia of other presents that would fill most Christmas wish lists for a lifetime.

Harper this year received “22 books regarding Holocaust survivors” from David Azrieli, founder of the Azrieli Foundation. He received a leather-bound book titled “Palestine — Celebrating the Survival” from Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

Prince Charles gave Harper a sterling silver box with the Royal crest during his Canadian tour in November.

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama gave Harper and Laureen Harper a “hand-crafted glass tree” at the G20 summit in Philadelphia. Michelle Obama also gave Harper’s wife a porcelain tea set made especially for the summit.

The four bottles of tequila came from Emilio Gonzalez Marquez, the governor of Mexico’s province of Jalisco, during the North American leaders’ summit in Guadalajara in August.

Berlusconi, though embroiled in a sex scandal during the year, was generous when the Harpers arrived along with other leaders and their spouses at the G8 summit in L’Aquila in July.

As well as the monogrammed terry-towel bath set, Berlusconi gave Harper a “fine linen” table cloth and napkins made by the Frette Group; a “gentleman’s tan-coloured leather briefcase” made by the Pineider Company; and a three-volume red-leather set of “Who’s Who in Italy.” Berlusconi gave Laureen Harper a black leather jacket made by Belstaff.

During the summit, Harper announced $5 million from Canada to help L’Aquila recover from a devastating earthquake that destroyed parts of the city in April.

One of the most unusual stories behind the gifts the Harpers received in 2009 involved a carved wooden bowl from Canadian artist Garry Bowes.

The gift to Laureen Harper came about following a visit to Canada by Japanese Emperor Akihito and the Empress of Japan.

Laureen Harper had sacrificed a birch tree from the prime minister’s official country residence at Harrington Lake and asked Bowes to carve a bowl from the wood. The Harpers presented the bowl as a gift to Emperor Akihito and his wife.

Bowes later presented his own bowl to Laureen Harper as “an expression of courtesy to thank Mrs. Harper for the commission,” says Harper’s declaration to the federal conflict of interest and ethics office.

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