Published On Mon Apr 23 2012
International Development Minister Bev Oda, at a donors conference in England last year, Oda has been criticized for champagne tastes in the past. In 2006, she used limousines to ferry her to and from the Juno Awards ceremony in Halifax. When the expenses were criticized in the House of Commons, she said she had reimbursed the taxpayer $2,200 of the $5,475 in bills.
BEN FISHER/THE CANADIAN PRESSJennifer DitchburnThe Canadian Press
OTTAWA—It seems only the best will do for International Development Minister Bev Oda, who refused to stay at one five-star hotel in London, England, last year and rebooked at a swanky establishment for more than double the cost.
Oda was originally supposed to stay at the Grange St. Paul’s Hotel, site of the conference on international immunizations she was attending.
Instead, she had staff rebook her into the posh Savoy overlooking the Thames, an old favourite of royalty and currently owned by Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia.
The switcheroo is reminiscent of a controversial trip six years ago, when Oda rejected a minivan for transportation and opted for a limousine instead.
Oda had a luxury car and driver in London shuttling her between conference site, her new hotel and beyond at an average cost of nearly $1,000 a day.
The bill for three nights at the Savoy last June set back taxpayers $1,995, or $665 a night. The government still had to pay for a night at the hotel she rejected, costing an additional $287.
An orange juice Oda expensed from the Savoy cost $16.
In last month’s budget, the Canadian International Development Agency suffered cuts that rang in this year at $380 million.
“The minister preferred not to stay at the Grange St. Paul’s upon our arrival there and we had to pay,” says a note on an expense sheet.
Documents on the trip were obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
Oda’s spokesman, Justin Broekema, originally told The Canadian Press he could not comment on “specific accommodation arrangements for the minister”.
On Monday he told the Star that Oda “personally paid the portion of the expenses in question”.
Broekema did not immediately answer follow-up questions regarding which portion of the cost that would be, or explain how that information was missing from the documents.
“The Minister considers the most appropriate, cost-effective travel and accommodations—in compliance with Treasury Board Guidelines. Expenses incurred followed these guidelines,” Broekema wrote Monday. “Our government, including this Minister, has reduced spending on travel and hospitality and overall Ministerial office budgets.”
New Democrat MP and Opposition House Leader Nathan Cullen said he could not think of anything that would justify Oda staying at the Savoy.
“Can a night at the Savoy be justified? I suppose if you’re in a high-flying rock band, but as a minister who is meant to be engaging with the world’s most poor, most needy, and coming from a government that is demanding that Canadians tighten their own belts, the hypocrisy is reeking,” Cullen told reporters on Monday morning. “It is incredible, particularly a minister who has already been through this. . . I’m not sure that Canadians will be satisfied with that level of hypocrisy coming from this government as they cut essential services like pensions and food security.”
A political staffer travelling with Oda stayed at the cheaper hotel, which is no shack — it features views of St. Paul’s Cathedral, an enormous glass atrium, four restaurants and five bars.
A chauffeur drove Oda around the city at a cost of $2,850 over three days. On the first day of the conference, the Canadian government paid for the car to be on call for 15 hours. The Savoy is two kilometres from the Grange.
John Alan of John Alan’s Car Service said he couldn’t recall which kind of car Oda used, but said his cars were in the Mercedes or BMW range.
While in London, Oda represented Canada at a donors conference for the GAVI Alliance, a global health organization that works to immunize children in poor countries. Canada has given $253 million to GAVI since 2001. Microsoft chairman and philanthropist Bill Gates attended the conference, as well as British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Oda has been criticized for champagne tastes in the past.
In 2006, she used limousines to ferry her to and from the Juno Awards ceremony in Halifax, racking up $5,475 in bills. When the expenses were criticized in the House of Commons, she said she had reimbursed the taxpayer $2,200 of the bill.
A year later, Oda billed taxpayers more than $1,200 for another limousine ride that took her to both a government event and a party activity. The NDP cried foul when those expenses were not spelled out in the government’s public disclosures.
With files from Joanna Smith
Bev Oda repays extra money spent on posh hotel
OTTAWA — The orange juice was too expensive after all.
International Development Minister Bev Oda has reimbursed taxpayers for the extra money she cost them by upgrading from a five-star hotel to an even fancier one while attending a conference in London, England last year.
The Canadian Press reported Monday that Oda turned her nose up at her original $287-a-night reservation last June at the posh Grange St. Paul’s Hotel, which was hosting a donors conference on international immunization that she and notables such as Microsoft chairman Bill Gates were attending.
There, according to the hotel website, the conference tables are adorned with silver candelabras, the plush white bathrobes are monogrammed, the spa includes a traditional Turkish bath and the windows overlook the gorgeous St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Not good enough, apparently, for the Canadian minister responsible for delivering humanitarian aid to the poorest countries in the world through the Canadian International Development Agency, which the federal budget announced last month showed will undergo $319 million in spending cuts by 2014-15.
Oda had her staff rebook her into the Savoy, an even more luxurious hotel ($665 a night) overlooking the Thames that has hosted such stars as Frank Sinatra, Claude Monet, Charlie Chaplin and royalty.
Switching from the Grange to the Savoy cost taxpayers an additional $1,134 for the three nights, plus an additional $287 because the government lost its one-night deposit at the hotel she rejected.
Oda also expensed a $16 glass of orange juice from the Savoy.
“The minister preferred not to stay at the Grange St. Paul’s upon our arrival there and we had to pay,” says a note on an expense sheet obtained by The Canadian Press.
A chauffeur also drove Oda around the city in a luxury car, including to and from the Savoy to the site of the conference at the less expensive hotel, which cost the government $2,850 over three days.
Ten months later — after the story broke and caused uproar — Oda paid some of the money back.
“The minister personally paid the portion of the expenses in question,” her press secretary, Justin Broekema, wrote in an email on Monday afternoon after noting that the expenses were repaid in compliance with Treasury Board guidelines. “The repayment occurred this morning, and covered the difference in cost between the two hotels, and the cancellation fee.”
Broekema later added that Oda also shelled out for the orange juice.
Nothing was said about the car and driver.
New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair noted Oda repaid the money only after her expense claims became public.
“There doesn’t seem to have been any sincerity in the reparation effort,” Mulcair told reporters Monday following question period in the Commons, where Oda was absent. “It seems to be more damage control than an honest application of the rules.”
Mulcair also noted Oda has been in trouble for lavish spending before, sparking criticism from the opposition for charging taxpayers with thousands of dollars in limousine rides in both 2006 and 2007.
Liberal MP and ethics critic Scott Andrews suggested during question period that Oda switched rooms because she could not get a smoking room at the original hotel.
Neither of the two London hotels would comment on the particulars of Oda’s reservations on Monday, but employees at both establishments told the Star that smoking rooms are available upon request.
Broekema did not answer questions about why Oda switched hotels.
Edited by Scorpio Ego, 23 April 2012 - 05:40 PM.