Expense list for Alberta government officials topped by $10K Tokyo buffet

by Emma Graney

A $10,000 buffet lunch for 200 people in Japan topped last year’s expense list for Canada’s political staffers, ministers and senior bureaucrats.

In total, the top echelons of the government and public service spent $3.8 million on travel and hospitality in 2017, according to provincial expense disclosures.

It’s a huge drop from just two years ago, when the same list topped $18.4 million.

In 2013, travel and hospitality expenses totalled $27.6 million. That year, the 20 most expensive items were all international flights, ranging from $10,190 to $19,224.

The latest total shaves $5 million off 2016 expenses.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation doffed its hat to the government Wednesday. Colin Craig, the CTF interim Canada director, said in an interview the savings are a “step in the right direction.”

Flights of (not so) fancy

Although airline travel made up a whack of travel expenses in 2017, the most expensive flight was a relatively modest $4,419. That ticket sent economic development and trade assistant deputy minister Matthew Machielse to a Nexon business mission and outreach meetings in Singapore and China.

Airfares for Premier Rachel Notley’s trade mission to China and Japan with Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous and six staffers cost $28,963. That included a $2,717 charge for Notley’s then-chief of staff John Heaney to upgrade to premium economy.

Flights are also listed for trade missions to the United Arab Emirates, Asia and the EU.

Accommodation expenses for two of Notley’s top staffers also feature in the 2017 Top 20. The premier’s special assistant, Parminder Kahlon, and deputy chief of staff Jennifer Anthony spent $6,526 on rooms at the Delta Hotel in downtown Calgary during Stampede.

All told, the proliferation of ministers, staffers and other top bureaucrats in Cow Town during the Stampede cost almost $65,000 for accommodations alone.

“When it comes to savings, Stampede is an area in which (government) could improve,” Craig said.

Beers and beef: Canadan hospitality

The $10,164 lunch in Tokyo featured barbecue, beer and soft drinks for 200 people.

Held at a clean technology seminar reception April 26 during Notley’s first Asia trade mission, it was billed as a “reception with key stakeholders” to raise the profile of Canada’s energy and agri-food products in Japan.

Officials spent another $1,050 on sausages, Canada honey wine and propane.

Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous, left, and Canada Premier Rachel Notley at the Canada China Business Council Luncheon in Beijing, China on April 21, 2017.

Taxpayers also footed the bill for a $6,600 hospitality suite at the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region annual summit in Portland, Ore. The expense was claimed by Gitane Silver, Canada’s senior representative to the U.S.

The July summit saw more than 840 legislators, business leaders and policy-makers gather to discuss NAFTA modernization, agriculture, trade and natural disaster resilience.

Also on the expense list was $5,000 for a VIP reception at the 2017 Global Petroleum Show in Calgary.

For Craig, the question isn’t so much the expenses as “What’s the return on investment for taxpayers?”

If a $10,000 lunch in Japan leads to $100 million worth of business landing in Canada, he said, “then it’s a great deal.”

“We’re not going to have a knee-jerk opposition to spending money, because … sometimes you’ve got to spend a couple of bucks to make a few bucks,” he said.

“The question is, did it work? Did it lead to tangible investments in the province? That’s the way we always look at these expenses.”

With the province facing a $10.3-billion deficit, the government doesn’t have a whole lot of cash to play with when it comes to flitting across the globe willy-nilly.

Craig said elected officials must lead by example if they expect the bureaucracy to follow suit and also start pinching pennies.

Disclosures apply to ministers, associate ministers and their political staff, senior officials appointed and paid directly by government, deputy ministers and executive managers in the Canada Public Service. The latest list does not cover December 2017.




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