Deficit no barrier to pricey travel by MPs, senators
By Joan Bryden, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Last Updated: March 1, 2010
OTTAWA — Federal politicians aren’t letting a record deficit stop them from jetting around the globe in style.
MPs and senators from all parties are proposing to spend almost $1.5 million in taxpayers’ money in the next fiscal year to attend meetings in such exotic locales as Swaziland, Seychelles, Trinidad, Kenya, India and Indonesia.
And with sky-high airfares of up to $10,500 each, they don’t appear to be planning to fly economy — or shopping for the lowest price.
Details of the planned excursions are contained in the draft budgets for the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, obtained by The Canadian Press. They are just two of a dozen parliamentary associations to which federal politicians belong.
The IPU is asking for $870,366 and the CPA for $605,818 — most of it for international travel. Both budgets must still be approved by the Joint Interparliamentary Council, which is overseen by the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Senate’s internal economy committee.
The IPU budget provides the most detail, including estimated airfares for each of its 16 international trips planned for the 2010-11 fiscal year. For instance: $10,500 to Jakarta and New Delhi, $5,000 to Vienna, $7,000 to Geneva, and $2,500 to New York.
The ticket prices seem very high, even for business class. The Canadian Press was able to find business or executive class fares for $3,600 to New Delhi, $8,700 to Jakarta, $3,000 to Geneva and $3,000 to Vienna.
And while politicians often maintain the comfort of business class is justified on long overseas flights, $2,500 to make the short hop to New York is several times the cost of an economy class ticket.
The proposed fares don’t appear to take into account the fact that many of the trips are months away — some as much as a year away — which should result in some savings for tickets booked in advance.
The CPA’s draft budget doesn’t specify airfares for each of its 11 overseas trips planned for the coming fiscal year. But in notes on the trip to Kenya in September for eight delegates and one staff member, it observes: “when circumstances permit the purchase of tickets well in advance, substantial savings can be made in the cost of the airfares.”
It adds that the delegates will only be reimbursed an amount “corresponding to the lowest economy fare.” There is, however, no similar advisory for any of the CPA’s other trips.
The CPA boasts a membership of 133 MPs and senators, representing all parties, while the IPU has 75 members. Anywhere from one to nine parliamentarians are slated to go on each of the planned trips.
According to the parliamentary website, the dozen parliamentary associations “promote the country’s interests abroad on a continuing basis” through regular meetings and conferences.
Neither Russ Hiebert, the Conservative MP who chairs the CPA, nor Tory Senator Donald Oliver, president of the IPU, returned calls about their associations’ budgets.
But in a cover letter to the Joint Interparliamentary Council asking for approval of the CPA’s budget, Hiebert says the Commonwealth association’s “mission is to promote the advancement of parliamentary democracy by enhancing knowledge and understanding of democratic governance.”
Further, he says it aims to deepen ties to other Commonwealth countries.
Such high-minded goals cut no ice with Kevin Gaudet of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. He thinks the associations are a flimsy excuse for sending politicians on taxpayer-funded junkets.
“They fly first class. They eat and drink first class. It’s all first class and it’s a first-class waste,” Gaudet said.
“It’s not clear what the benefits are. If anything, all they do is get together with a bunch of other like-minded politicians to figure out other ways to take more of our money and spend more of our money.”
With the government projected to rack up a record deficit of $56 billion this year, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is expected to outline in this week’s federal budget plans for limiting spending. Gaudet believes he should start by axing the travel budgets of parliamentary associations.
“At a time when the government is borrowing $153 million a day with no end in sight to those deficits, these things should top the list of reductions.”
Gaudet is not optimistic, however, that the overseas junkets will come to a halt any time soon given that they’re highly prized perks utilized by MPs and senators from all parties.
“Sadly enough, none of this is very surprising anymore. Same old, same old. No matter who’s in power, no matter what the state of the economy, it doesn’t stop,” he said.
“(Politicians) can go hammer and tongs (at each other) but when it comes to their pay, perks and pensions at the trough, they’re well united.”
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