Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lisa Raitt Digs For Gold in Taxpayers Wallet

Natural Resources minister, Lisa Raitt might be incompetent. She might even be thin skinned. But man can she party.

Don't expect Ms. Raitt to travel economy. This gal is first class all the way, and has no problem billing taxpayers for her extravagances, even during an economic crisis.

Raitt spent $80k on travel and hospitality in previous job
By Glen McGregor,
The Ottawa Citizen
April 2, 2009

OTTAWA — Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt spent nearly $80,000 on travel and hospitality during her last two years as head of the Toronto Port Authority before leaving her job to run for the Conservatives.

A summary of her expenses as president and chief executive officer of the federal agency shows she racked up $28,000 in hospitality charges in 2007 and until the fall of 2008. In the same period, she spent an additional $51,000 on travel, with trips to Washington, D.C., Newark, New Jersey, and two visits to London, England, among other destinations. Raitt’s expenses were tabled in the House of Commons this week in response to an order paper question from Toronto NDP MP Olivia Chow.

“There is no reason why a Crown corporation, in tough economic times, would spend that much money traveling,” Chow said Thursday. “It just does not show leadership using taxpayer’s money for this kind of expensive travel.”

She said Raitt shouldn’t have been taking “junkets” when the Port Authority was running a deficit.

With a 2007 operating budget of about $17 million, the Port Authority is a relatively small shared-governance corporation, with the City of Toronto and the province represented on its board. It is responsible for a shipping terminal, a marina and the Toronto City Centre Airport.

According to its 2007 financial statement, the Port Authority reported an operating loss of nearly $1.9 million, after losing $6 million the year before.

Raitt earned a salary of $185,000 plus $19,000 in other benefits in 2007, the statement shows.

Asked for comment, a spokesperson in Raitt’s ministerial office emailed the following: “As the independent audit committee of the Toronto Port Authority has previously stated, these approved expenses are typical for a business of its size and complexity.”

Earlier this year, the board’s audit committee said it was clarifying its policy on hospitality expense but said there was nothing unusual in the expenses it reviewed. It did not publicly release the expense reports.

Board chairman Mark McQueen said in an email that Raitt’s $50,000 in expenses on 40 trips over two years was “not atypical.” The 2008 trip to London, he said, was to meet with insurance underwriters and saved the Port Authority $20,000 but cost less than $4,000.
“That’s a good return on investment.”

The records tabled this week show that Raitt, in addition to the 2008 trip, also spent another $3,622 traveling to London in February 2007.

Some of her trips within Canada were the most expensive. She spent $2,991 on a trip to Ottawa the same month she visited London last year, $3,012 to go to Montreal and $4,234 to visit Saint John, New Brunswick.

Her hospitality bills varied from month to month, with the highest of $3,817 in January 2008.

“The more distant North American trips involve various domestic and continental Port Associations, which meet in different cities on a rotating basis,” McQueen wrote. “[The] $30,000 for hospitality over two years doesn’t surprise me, given the wide variety of roles that the CEO plays in receiving dignitaries and business development.”

McQueen said that while the Port Authority always followed its purchasing policy, the clarification “ensured that no hospitality expenses, however small, can be recovered without the approval of the immediate supervisor.”

When Riatt was sworn into the Harper cabinet last October, the Citizen filed an Access to Information Act request with the Port Authority for all her expense claims dating back to 2002.

The agency requested several extensions on the time allowed to respond, then said retrieving the “extensive” records requested would require substantial work. The agency asked for payment of $2,070 to produce the records.

In the October election, Riatt upset Conservative-turned-Liberal incumbent Garth Turner in Halton, Ontario.

Because she is now a cabinet minister, all of Raitt’s travel and hospitality claims are posted on her department’s website. Those records show that in the first five months on the job, she ran up $34,700 in travel expenses.

At this rate she may single handedly break the bank, even without Jim Flaherty's performance (or lack thereof).

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