|Posted: Mon Oct 02, 2006 7:25 pm Post subject: CPC Minister So Frugal, Lib MPs Don't Believe it is Possible
|Frugal Tory travel and hospitality claims raise Liberal eyebrows
By Bruce Cheadle
OTTAWA (CP) - 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.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day had still not posted as of late Monday afternoon, two full days past the Sept. 30 deadline.
Goodale said the mass, last-minute disclosure suggests the expense reports were vetted first by someone in government. Treasury Board officials flatly deny it.
Individual departments handle the filing and nothing in the process has changed, said Mike Van Soelen, communications director for Treasury Board President John Baird.
"I think the credibility of the Liberal party on this matter is well understood by Canadians."
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.
Rona Ambrose at Environment has recorded just more than $56,000 in travel to date this year, a hefty total until one considers the almost $139,000 spent by her Liberal predecessor in 2005. Ambrose's half-year hospitality bill of $814 makes her look like a piker compared to Stephane Dion, who charged $14,408 over the course of 2005
Justice Minister Vic Toews, who spent $32,562 on travel in the last six months, isn't quite on pace to match Irwin Cotler's $76,751 total travel bill in the same portfolio last year. And the $767 spent by Toews on hospitality so far leaves him in Cotler's $4,300 dust.
Through two quarters, Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda has spent $13,778 on travel and $662 on hospitality. In the same two quarters of 2005, Liberal minister Liz Frulla billed $52,885 for travel and $2,060 for hospitality.
And Immigration Minister Monte Solberg's summer expenses of just more than $23,000 for travel and $455 for hospitality compare favourably to those of Liberal Joe Volpe, who in the same job in the same quarter last year spent $35,000 and $3,900 respectively.