Monday, May 25, 2009

The Spend and Spend Harperites. Is This Really Conservative?

When in opposition, no matter what party name Stephen Harper was representing, he was continually lambasting the Liberals for excessive spending on travel. However, now that they are in power, it is a different matter.

The Toronto Star investigated the 'frugal' Tories and found that they can spend with the best of them, or should I say the worst of them.

Luxury travel contradicts Tories' frugal image

A Star investigation found spending by ministers, political staff and bureaucrats that is far from the frugal image of the Stephen Harper government. Some federal travellers can't seem to get to London, England, for less than $6,000, even though economy seats were available for $1,000 to $2,000. In our analysis of 60,000 travel records over four years, we found $18,000 flights to Australia, $7,000 flights to Paris, $11,000 flights to Indonesia and $8,000 flights to Switzerland.

By contrast, travel surveys show businesses are reducing costs by choosing more economical flights. ... In the Star's investigation, we found that Harper's ministers often travel with a large entourage, at a high cost ... Both Liberals and Conservatives have been big spenders but the Star's analysis found most Conservative ministers spent slightly more than the Liberals they once accused of being lavish spenders.

Here are some examples of how the Harperites are living large on our largess:

John Baird, took a $10,920 flight to Bali, while flights were available for as little as $3200. Three political aides and two bureaucrats joined him at similar rates. Total airfare was $61,000.

When Chuck Strahl flew to Geneva for World Trade Organization talks in 2006, he took with him five political staff (his chief of staff, his senior policy adviser, his junior policy adviser, a parliamentary secretary, a second parliamentary secretary) and three bureaucrats ... The week-long trip to Geneva ... cost taxpayers $84,000 in airfare and accommodations. Strahl's airfare from Ottawa to Newfoundland to Geneva was $7,200.

When then Health Minister Tony Clement booked an economy flight to Kenya and Tanzania to visit health clinics and deliver a $150,000 Canadian government cheque, he sat in economy class. At a cost of $30,000 in total ... why was if necessary to spend that much to deliver an aid cheque.

The biggest spender of all ministers during the four-year period was former Conservative Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn, a frequent flyer with numerous trips to London, Paris and Australia. He spent $340,000 on ministerial travel over two years, more than any other minister in a similar period, Liberal or Conservative. ... Lunn takes along an entourage of political staff (including his event co-ordinator) when he is overseas.

... Jim Prentice and his wife travelled to Belgium in July 2007 to help commemorate the thousands of Canadians who died at Passchendaele during World War I. Airfare for the couple was $13,000.

The Star also found some ministers use government jets and charters for flights when commercial flights would be cheaper. For example, former transport minister Lawrence Cannon used a government jet at least 22 times in two years.

An aide to former secretary of state for heritage Jason Kenney sent the Star an email explaining that Kenney flew on an $807 economy ticket to London, England, to attend a conference in November 2007. Up front in business class with a $4,697 ticket was a very embarrassed assistant deputy minister from the same department. Kenney's aide was responding to a question about Kenney's trip to Istanbul ($10,500 airfare) as the Canadian government representative to the secretive Bilderberg conference, an annual meeting of top business and government leaders. Kenney's aide said Kenney went to Bilderberg to "converse about Canada's successful experience managing diversity."

Government travel costs have become easier to access thanks to a policy called Proactive Disclosure ... But the federal records don't reveal the full story of a trip. For example, an entry from 2007 shows that Ian Brodie, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Harper, took a $16,925 flight to Australia in May 2007. He went on his own and the trip is described only as "chief of staff's visit to Australia."

Federal records show ministers and staff took some expensive commercial flights over the past two years. The fares shown here are likely already discounted by up to 25 per cent because the government gets special travel deals.

$17,537 SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - Maxime Bernier (former foreign affairs minister). Flight for APEC meeting, September 2007.

$16,925 SYDNEY Ian Brodie (former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper). Flight listed as "Chief of Staff's visit to Australia" in May 2007.

$13,965 NAIROBI Rona Ambrose (former environment minister). Flight to Kenya in November 2006 for United Nations conference on climate change.

$10,400 GENEVA David Emerson (former international trade minister). Flight to Switzerland in June 2006 to attend informal World Trade Organization meetings.

$8,668 BRUSSELS Peter MacKay (former foreign affairs minister). Flight to Belgium in April 2006 for informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers.

$7,289 PARIS Greg Thompson (veterans' affairs minister). Flight to France to attend 65th anniversary of Dieppe raid in August 2007.

$7,209 PORTLAND, ME. Michael Fortier (former public works minister). Return flight between Portland, Me., and Ottawa in July 2007 for "cabinet meeting."

$5,880 EDMONTON Stockwell Day (former public safety minister). Flight from Vancouver to Calgary and Edmonton to visit a Canadian Security Intelligence Service office and speak at the University of Alberta in January.

And of some of those government jet travels, we find a whopper from Jean Pierre Blackburn

Conservatives came to Ottawa promising to be transparent and accountable with our tax dollars. But in 2006 Minister of Labour Jean Pierre Blackburn racked up almost $150,000 in flights on privately hired jets that don’t appear in his pro-active disclosure of travel expenses. For five trips, Blackburn was the only passenger on the flight, using the planes like his personal taxi to ferry him between Ottawa and his home in Alma, Quebec. Incredibly, Blackburn once rented a helicopter to fly him across the Port of Sept Iles — a trip of less than 30 minutes by car.



More Postings on Abuse of Our Tax Dollars:

Taxpayers Foot Bill for Tory Fundraisers

Stephen Harper Lives Like a King While Peter Zimonjic Becomes Another Court Jester

Reform Conservative Abuse of Our Tax Dollars is no Longer Funny

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