Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Hey Big Spender

People often latch on to the money spent by politicians on travel and hospitality because they're expenses that, unlike so many other in government, we've run up ourselves and can more easily judge the reasonableness thereof.

Thus also with journalists.

And they'll make a story of profligact or frugality, either way:

Industry Minister Maxime Bernier is proving to be the big spender in a federal Conservative cabinet that is frugal to a fault.

For the second quarter in a row, Bernier's penchant for $175 working dinners-for-two at some of Ottawa's finer restaurants was the exception to the rule, according to newly released travel and hospitality expenses.

A number of Conservative ministers recorded zero hospitality in the three-month summer quarter, including Public Works Minister Michael Fortier, Loyola Hearn at Fisheries and House Leader Rob Nicholson.

When they sat in opposition, the Tories dined out on tales of then-immigration minister Joe Volpe's $138 pizzas, and former Mint president David Dingwall's $800 dinners for two.

Now that they're in government, the Conservatives are actually raising hackles with their frugality.

Ralph Goodale, the former Liberal finance minister who instituted the quarterly reporting requirement in 2004, said Monday he finds the latest posted results odd.

"I think there are some questions to be asked here about whether the reporting process is being followed exactly as it is intended to be followed, and whether the government is giving Canadians the whole story and the straight goods."

Each department appeared to wait until the last possible moment to post their minister's travel expenses - 30 days after the end of the June 1-Aug. 31 quarter.


Bernier and Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay were almost in a Tory class of their own when it came to hospitality spending.

Bernier spent $1,253 on seven working meals in the latest quarter - including a $176 dinner for two and a $498 dinner for five - after chalking up almost $1,500 in the previous quarter. The lawyer and businessman from Quebec's Beauce riding also posted $17,375 in travel expenses this summer.

MacKay, as might be expected of a foreign minister, racked up $53,643 in travel through two quarters and $2,604 in hospitality, although with none of Bernier's pricey dinners for two.

MacKay's travel expenses for half a year eclipse the full 2005 total for his Liberal predecessor, Pierre Pettigrew, who spent $41,311 on travel last year.

Both Bernier and MacKay are on pace to challenge Pettigrew's 2005 hospitality tab of $5,429.

But they are the exceptions in Harper's cabinet.

When you think about it, even Bernier's apparent big spending isn't all that big. Probably because of whom he is entertaining in his portfolio, and because he doesn't appear to have gone way overboard the way Joe Volpe did with his $138 pizzas.

And Peter MacKay has been travelling a fair bit on the job, as he must. And unlike Pettigrew, without a chauffeur for undisclosed special services.

In the great scheme of government expenditure, ministers' travel and hospitality is a drop in the bucket. But it's a drop anyone can measure. Thus the annual stories about ministers at the trough.

Source: Canoe

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