Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Jeezus, did you see this 'Business Card Tony?' Well did you?" Still within Treasury Board guidelines are we?

Taxpayers pick up tab for $7,000 Tory pizza lunch

By David Akin
National Bureau Chief
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Parliament Hill. (Tony Caldwell/QMI Agency)

OTTAWA — Taxpayers have paid for more than $130,000 in meals for Conservative political staff and the country's top bureacrats since 2010.

One single lunch bill alone, QMI Agency has learned, was for nearly $7,000 so 330 Conservative political aides could eat pizza, garlic bread, caesar salad and fettucine at a Professional Development day held on the political equivalent of the last day of school in late June, 2012.

And who signed off on that June 28, 2012, PD day? None other than Nigel Wright, the Bay Street millionaire Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper who would be fired within a year for cutting a $90,000 cheque from his own bank account to try to hush up the Mike Duffy affair.

Liberal MP Gerry Byrne said that kind of spending — lunch for Conservative political staff only - is clearly offside.

"That really does seem to be more of a Party event. That's an awful lot of money," Byrne said.

The professional development day was held at the Government Conference Centre, steps from Parliament Hill where government-run cafeterias serve a decent hot lunch for reasonable prices.

The Conference Centre is also right across the street from a major downtown Ottawa shopping mall with a sprawling food court.

Instead, the PMO ordered in 70 large pizzas, 34 chicken and mushroom fettucines and other food from Boston Pizza. The Boston Pizza bill alone that day was $4,601.93 - all paid for by the taxpayer.

And that was just one of dozens of Parliament Hill political chow-downs where taxpayers footed the bill over the last few years.

Deputy Ministers, the top non-political aides who run various government departments and earn $300,000 or more a year after bonuses are factored in, have their breakfast bill paid when they meet as a group once a week.

Those breakfast bills have cost taxpayers as much as $66,000 for the three years from 2011 to 2013. When the full group of deputy ministers are present, each breakfast bill can be as high as $805.69 as it was on September 21, 2011.

Those spending details were in government records obtained through Access to Information requests by researcher Ken Rubin.

"The Conservatives rode into town promising to tighten the belts," Byrne said. "There would be no free lunches literally or figuratively."

Last fall, Byrne combed through the expense reports published online every month by the Prime Minister's Office and found more than $68,000 worth of takeout food orders from various Greek, Lebanase, Indian and Mexican restaurants were billed to the taxpayer.

The food was served at weekly meetings between Harper's top political aides and the top political aides of his ministers.

Byrne said the circumstances of those purchases clearly contravene government spending guidelines. But in the House of Commons Tuesday, Treasury Board President Tony Clement said no rules had been broken and that spending on hospitality had been cut by nearly half sine 2006.

"Since coming into power, this government has spent less on hospitality than the previous government," Clement said.


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