Thursday, July 05, 2012

For $16,000 taxpayers could have purchased the Old Girl a used car or bus passes! Walk ..... do Members of Parliament walk?

A $16,000 2009-2010 Honda
Oda charged taxpayers $16,000 for car rentals since 2007: invoices

By Rebecca Lindell
Thursday, July 5, 2012

OTTAWA – Former Conservative cabinet minister Bev Oda spent nearly $16,000 on limo and car services over the past five years, according to documents released by the Canadian International Development Agency.

The invoices requested under Access to Information were released on Wednesday, a day after Oda retired from politics and more than a week after the department told Global News no such records exist.

The department later backtracked and promised to hand over all records of Oda’s limo and car rental expenses since August 2007.

Oda announced she would step out of federal politics on Tuesday after a firestorm ignited around her hiring a luxury car and driver at a cost of $1,000 per day on a trip to London in June 2011. During that same trip she rejected a five-star hotel, rebooked in a swankier establishment at double the cost and charged taxpayers for a $16 glass of orange juice. She later reimbursed taxpayers for the questionable costs including $3,000 for the limo.

Her departure raised questions about how many limo and car rental bills the minister racked up.

The newly released reports show Oda billed taxpayers for $8,816 for luxury car rentals from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to other locations in the Greater Toronto Area between August 2007 and April 2008.

One trip in February 2008 saw Oda rack up a bill for $1,070 for a 12 hour rental related to an event to announce CIDA funding for a child protection partnership.

Another pricey trip came to $892.50 after a driver and car was hired to wait at the Sheraton Centre hotel in downtown Toronto for 10 hours, while the minister attended the Toronto Garrison Officers’ Ball.

The expenses fell within the rules on ministerial travel, which allow ministers to include fees for the use of privately-owned, government-owned or rental vehicles.

“The Minister also is using a lot of limos to travel around the GTA which is around her home riding. Why was she using limos during that time, up until 2008 when the rules changed, rather than finding the cheaper way to travel?” said NDP MP Dan Harris.

The minister’s office said Oda made the final decision about how she travelled and only she could provide more specific details about why she chose to hire a car over other transportation options. Oda’s constituency office said they had no comment when called on Thursday.

Most of the trips ranged in duration from one to three hours and cost between $270 and $400. Oda represents the riding of Durham, just an hour outside of the heart of Toronto.

The invoices are not clear about where Oda was leaving from or heading to in many cases with at least one point of her journey redacted for containing “personal information” such as an address.

Oda’s former press secretary Justin Broekema said any travel costs paid for by taxpayers must be for government business only. He did not explain why Oda stopped using limos in 2008 only to say:"The former Minister ceased the practice in question several years ago."

Broekema later said the timing of the release was simply a coinicidence.

"We exercised no control over the timing of the release of the documents," he said.

Gregory Thomas of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said such expenses never should have happened.

“To spend $800 or $1,000 to have a driver drive you around Toronto is completely out of line,” he said. “She’s from Toronto. She has been driving around Toronto all her life. She no doubt has a car and she could file an expense claim on the reasonable mileage on the car.”

The cost of a cab from the airport to downtown Toronto is approximately $55, while a taxi ride all the way to Oda’s riding would run around $165.

In addition to being able to charge their transportation expenses outside of Ottawa, cabinet ministers also have a car and driver available to them for travel in the nation’s capital – a perk that costs taxpayers between $46,883 and $50,755, per minister.

The remaining $7,179.82 in car rental expenses billed by Oda was connected to trips she made abroad from 2009 to 2012. Destinations included Rome, Brussels, Haiti and the now infamous stay in London.

Oda’s repayment of the $3,000 brings the total bill for taxpayers down to $13,000.

Without the historical expenses of all cabinet ministers, it is hard to know how Oda stacks up when it comes to her transportation expenses.

But Harris said excessive spending could go well beyond the embattled minister.

“It could be the tip of the iceberg. One of the glaring situations we’ve seen recently was Flaherty, Van Loan and Clement racked up $23,000 in limo rides in Davos, Switzerland in 2011,” he said.

“That blows Minister Oda’s total expenses out of the water.”

Veteran politics watcher Ned Franks said Oda’s poor judgment should not deter Canadians from trusting politicians to be prudent with the public purse.

“My inclination to err on the side of trust rather than control because the huge majority of the MPs I’ve met are dedicated to the well-being of their constituents in Canada and I think they deserve our respect,” said the Queen's University professor of political science. “When we start nitpicking and start to go after the pennies and going after the big things we are distracting them from their important work.”

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