Cabinet ministers have long had lavish tastes

Waiter! Bring me an orange juice!

Many Canadians try to pinch pennies when they travel abroad, looking for bargains on airfare and accommodations. Not federal International Cooperation minister Bev Oda, who found herself in trouble this week for having a grand old time at taxpayers’ expense during a trip to London, England last year.

It was bad enough that the Minister decided that the five-star Grange St. Paul’s Hotel wasn’t up to her standards and canceled her $287 Cdn./night reservation — quite reasonable for a London five-star hotel — in favour of a $665/night reservation at The Savoy, a favourite with visiting heads of state, and stuck the taxpayer with the Grange’s $287 cancellation penalty.

But did she really need a $16 glass of orange juice?

As outrageous as these prices might be, Oda wasn’t the first minister to get busted living the high life before her ministerial years come to an end and the perks and privileges disappear.

Those with long memories might recall Suzanne Blais-Grenier’s love of travel. Now largely a forgotten figure, the then-Environment Minister was blasted in 1985-86 for spending $65,000 ($127,000 in 2012 dollars) on two trips to Europe that seemed to involve more fun than government business.

She was soon demoted by then prime minister Brian Mulroney, and later kicked out of the Progressive Conservative party.

It’s not just Canada that has had problems with ministers who didn’t always appreciate value-for-money.

Ireland’s former Arts, Sports and Tourism minister John O’Donoghue caused howls of outrage in 2009 when it was discovered that he spent over $600 Cdn. on a three-minute limousine ride between two terminals at London’s Heathrow Airport.

An airport shuttle bus could have taken him between terminals at no charge.

The same year, Irish environment minister John Gormley made a point of taking the ferry across to the U.K to reduce his carbon footprint — where he was promptly met by a chauffeured car that had been driven five hours from London to whisk him away. In total, the car and chauffeur cost taxpayers about $3,500 Cdn.

It was the embassy’s fault, he said.

On the continent, France has had numerous problems with ministers’ free-spending ways. Herve Gaymard, the finance minister, handed in his resignation in 2005 after it was discovered that his luxurious 6,500 sq. ft. (!) home near the Champs-Elysee — shared by his wife and eight children — was costing French taxpayers the equivalent of $23,000 Cdn. every month.

To make matters worse, he was simultaneously renting out his other apartment for $3,700 Cdn. per month.

“I have always lived humbly. I don’t have money,” he told a reporter in his own defence.

Five years later, junior minister Christian Blanc resigned after getting caught passing his $18,000 Cdn. bill for Cuban cigars off to the taxpayer.

Though French president Nicolas Sarkozy vowed a crackdown on such lavish spending, he himself was roundly criticized one year later after his son Pierre Sarkozy — better known in rap circles as DJ Mosey — called home from Ukraine complaining of an upset stomach.

The president promptly dispatched a government jet to Ukraine to airlift his son to a French hospital, covering 30 percent of the bill himself and leaving taxpayers on the hook for the balance.

As comical or outrageous as these abuses are, one can only imagine how much worse things would be without Freedom of Information laws.

On the subject of travel, if you ever wanted to visit Europe at a reasonable price, this is the year to do it.  While gateway cities like London, Paris and Amsterdam will always be expensive, high-quality accommodations in Europe’s secondary cities are so ridiculously cheap right now due to the recession that it can cost about as much to travel to Europe as it would to travel to a major U.S. city if you can catch a seat sale. Consider the following, based on a July 7-14 stay:

Berlin — Park Plaza Prenzlauer Berg (4*): $55 Cdn./night

Copenhagen — First Hotel Copenhagen (4*): $105 Cdn./night

Lisbon — Hotel Lutecia (4*): $63 Cdn./night

Vienna — Rainers Hotel Vienna (4*): $65 Cdn./night

Get the deals while they last.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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