Thursday, December 03, 2015

Subsidized government housing in the sunny Magical Kingdom of Prince Justin The Good and Princess Sophie where the sun never shines ..... on taxpayers!

Good Day Readers:

Return of The Libranos version 2.0?
Clare L. Pieuk
Surprising little oversight when it comes to a prime minister's expenses

Tristin Hopper
Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Two nannies hired by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, were authorized, as instances of "special assistants." (The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld)

Canada pays for a prime minister’s car, a residence, a chef and, as it became clear this week, a couple of “special assistants” to help with child care.

But while politicians inhabit the taxpayer-funded bubble of running the country, what do they pay for out of their own pocket?

“It is very discretionary,” said an ex-staffer for former prime minister Stephen Harper.

Although there is surprisingly little oversight, the rule of thumb is that a prime minister covers any meals, travel or entertainment that is not directly connected to work.

Since 1971, the prime minister has been provided with a rent-free official residence, complete with free laundry, free heat, free hot water and free housekeeping and gardening. Former prime minister Jean Chretien, for one, has been known to jokingly refer to this perk as “government-subsidized housing.”

Under the Official Residences Act, federal funds can also be used to hire a steward, housekeeper and any other employees deemed “necessary for the management of the prime minister’s residence.”


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The two nannies hired by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for instance, were authorized as “special assistants.”

Kate Purchase, Trudeau’s director of communications, released a statement Wednesday indicating the prime minister will not expand the household staff but instead adjust their duties to suit the family’s needs.

A chauffeur is permitted to live at the residence for free, and public funds are also provided for the hiring of a chef and the “purchase of food.” Unless the Ambassador to Israel or any other dignitary is over for dinner, the prime minister’s family usually covers the cost of groceries.

Similarly, restaurant bills, bar tabs and even coffee runs are covered if it is part of official government business.

On June 10, 2015, for instance, the PMO spent $413.25 on a 41-person lunch from Café Deluxe, a bistro located three blocks away from Parliament Hill. That same month, the office spent $672.25 on “coffee, tea and soft drinks.”

The Privy Council office also keeps tabs on prime ministerial travel expenses.

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien liked to refer to 24 Sussex Drive and its perks as "government-subsidized housing. (Dave Chan/Postmedia News)

In July, Harper flew to Kelowna to thank wildfire crews. According to a public expense report, the trip incurred a $151.98 hotel tab.

Under the Treasury Board’s official rule book for government ministers, travel should only be expensed if done for “program-related business.”

Ultimately, though, a prime minister has a lot of wiggle room to decide what constitutes “program-related business.” As another Tory insider told the National Post, the system is “very much a grey area.”

The Conservatives briefly put Harper’s hair stylist on the public payroll, for instance, before deciding to cut her cheques from party coffers. And while Harper paid for all his own clothing, Brian Mulroney is said to have expensed his suits, ties, coats and shoes to a mixture of public and party accounts.

A prime minister with the spendthrift ways of a Senator Mike Duffy, for instance, could bank virtually his entire salary — provided he is comfortable with risking a potential media scandal.

Harper had a reputation for being unusually scrupulous when it came to expenses. At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, for instance, he got free admission to the opening and closing ceremonies, which he was required to attend. But he bought tickets for events he chose to attend on the side.

Stephen Harper would have paid for his tickets when he watched the Ladies' 1,000 m short-track final at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. (Yuri Kadobnor/Getty Images)

Many reimbursements of private travel are largely symbolic, however. For security reasons, prime ministers are forbidden from flying commercial.

“As you know, when I travel, or when our ministers travel on government aircraft for personal usage, we reimburse the treasury the commercial cost of that,” Harper told reporters in 2011.

Thus, if Trudeau wanted to take a trip to Montreal to visit family, he would pay only the $500-$800 market rate for an airline ticket — and the taxpayer would cover the five-figure tab for making the trip in a CC-150 Polaris.

“Even hardasses like us don’t begrudge that; if a prime minister’s required to fly on his own plane for security reasons, we’re not going to insist he never take a trip anywhere — ever — without paying $25,000 for the cost of a flight,” said Aaron Woodrich with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

The federation’s “hardasses” has a similarly benign approach if, say, war is declared and an all-night cabinet meeting wants to order in some Chinese food.

“But if you’re having your staff over for a social function, I don’t think that’s on the taxpayer dime,” said Woodrich.

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