Stephen Harper’s senior bureaucrats have been racking up some hefty airfares at a time of government restraint and controversy over travel.
Travel expenses recently posted for the final quarter of 2011 show executives at the Privy Council Office, the prime minister’s own department, paid costly fares last year on some of the most competitive routes to Europe and elsewhere.
Return airfare to Great Britain cost taxpayers $6,855 for Rennie Marcoux, assistant secretary to cabinet, to attend a week-long “cyber” conference in London last October.
The clerk of the Privy Council, Wayne Wouters, paid almost as much for a round-trip flight to London – $6,625 – for a public-service summit in November.
William Pentney, deputy secretary to cabinet, spent $3,566 on airfare to attend another international summit in London last June.
Paris, another popular European destination with plenty of airline competition, was also a favoured spot for Privy Council bureaucrats, who paid sky-high prices to get there.
Yvan Roy, legal counsel to Mr. Wouters, billed taxpayers $4,607 for a round-trip flight to Paris last October. The posted expense report does not explain the purpose of the trip or provide related costs, but a spokesman said it was for a conference hosted by the French government.
Another senior public servant in Mr. Harper’s department – Joseph Wild, assistant secretary to cabinet – spent $4,367 on airfare to an OECD conference in Paris.
The Irish capital of Dublin was also the destination for another hefty fare – $5,117, paid by Kristina Namiesniowski, assistant secretary to the cabinet. She was there to learn about “e-government.”
The jetsetters at Privy Council Office racked up other pricey airfares for several multi-stop trips overseas, making it difficult to compare prices directly.
Ward Elcock billed a whopping $15,278 to fly to four cities in Australia and New Zealand last October for two weeks of “meetings.” Elcock was travelling as the prime minister’s special adviser on human smuggling.
Mr. Harper’s national security adviser, Stephen Rigby, was a frequent flyer last year – a five-day visit to Singapore in June set taxpayers back $10,719 in airfare alone.
And Mr. Rigby’s week-long visit to Munich and London cost the treasury $6,733 in airline tickets.
All these travellers were public servants flying commercial, rather than the political staff who work inside the Prime Minister’s Office, which is part of the Privy Council Office.
Mr. Harper and his political staff typically fly on government-owned aircraft, rather than commercial airlines, largely for security and logistical reasons.
The Harper government was embroiled in several travel-related controversies in 2011. CTV News reported in September that the chief of defence staff, Gen. Walter Natynczyk, spent almost $1.5-million since 2008 flying on government-owned Challenger aircraft, once to a Caribbean holiday.
And late last year, it was revealed Defence Minister Peter MacKay called in a military search-and-rescue chopper to take him from a vacation at a Newfoundland fishing camp to a nearby airport, from which he flew to a government announcement in Ontario.