A Victoria transparency watchdog says the federal ethics commissioner should review how much politicians spent during 2019’s pre-election period.
Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC says there should be a special focus on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s use of the Canadian Air Force fleet of business jets.
Documents obtained exclusively by theBreaker.news, and shared with CTV News Vancouver, show Trudeau charged taxpayers $54,000 for an Ottawa-Vancouver round-trip at the end of last August to shoot a Liberal Party campaign ad on the Grouse Grind.
“Taxpayers should have an expectation that their dime is not going to serve the partisan political ends of whatever party is in power,” Travis said in an interview.
The documents show Trudeau spent $800,000 on flights aboard the government’s Bombardier Challenger jets to criss-cross the country between May and August last year. Many of the trips mixed government business with political campaigning and fundraising ahead of October’s federal election.
Trudeau visited B.C. seven times between late May and the end of August.
The last time, less than two weeks before the election officially began, included a Surrey photo op on Aug. 29 with Premier John Horgan, for an agreement to explore electrification of the natural gas industry in northern B.C., and an Aug. 30 morning visit with Mayor Kennedy Stewart at Vancouver city hall. Those were the only government business appointments in Trudeau’s public itinerary.
“I don’t think you should let him off the hook for the photo ops he had with John Horgan and Kennedy Stewart, because those were clearly part of the election strategy he went into the pre-election period with,” Travis said.
The lion’s share of the trip was a four-hour stay at Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver on Aug. 30 to shoot a Liberal Party re-election campaign ad on the Grouse Grind with various local Liberal candidates and party staff. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s RCMP security entourage of about a dozen vehicles waited in the North Vancouver resort’s parking lot. Trudeau and company eventually departed for Ottawa that afternoon.
Trudeau gathered with various candidates, including cabinet ministers Harjit Sajjan and Jonathan Wilkinson and candidates Terry Lake and Tamara Taggart, for the event, which was not publicized in his official itinerary.
Longtime aide Gerald Butts and chief of staff Katie Telford were there, along with officials from the Liberal Party headquarters and its B.C. office. The Grouse Grind ad may have played a pivotal role in keeping Trudeau in power, albeit with a minority government, after the Oct. 21 election.
Travis said the trips appeared to have “government business squeezed in-between party business, not party business squeezed in-between government business.”
Trudeau’s May 21-24 journey stopped in Kamloops for Lake’s nomination and continued to Vancouver for a Stanley Park Coast Guard shipbuilding announcement. Trudeau spent the rest of May 22 headlining a party fundraising lunch at Yaletown’s Opus Hotel and a dinner at the Neptune Palace Chinese restaurant in Marpole.
The next month, Trudeau made two round trips between Ottawa and Vancouver in the space of four days: June 1-2 for the Hats Off Day in Burnaby and June 3-4 for the Women Deliver Conference at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
“That not only is abuse of taxpayer’s dime, it’s a slap in the face to the taxpayer as well,” Travis said.
He returned west July 11-14, with stops in Edmonton at the Trans Mountain pipeline terminal, a Calgary party fundraiser during the Stampede and Surrey, to re-announce the Canada Child Benefit and go door-knocking with Surrey-Newton Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal.
Trudeau was back in B.C. later that week for a July 18 photo op with Horgan at BC Transit’s headquarters and a party fundraiser in a Victoria hotel prior to a 10-day family vacation in Tofino.
When he returned to the public eye, it was a July 29 news conference and barbecue with Kitsilano Coast Guard base workers in Vancouver and an evening party fundraiser at the University of B.C. alumni centre. In between, Trudeau visited a Davie Street gay bar.
The following weekend, yet another B.C. trip. This time it was to march in the Vancouver Pride Parade and attend another party fundraiser in Surrey.
Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Brook Simpson told theBreaker.news last September that Trudeau’s flights to and from B.C. during the period “followed all appropriate rules and guidelines.”
He referred theBreaker.news to Department of National Defence, which would only respond under the Access to Information law.
Trudeau’s flights were aboard the Department of National Defence’s Administrative Flight Service fleet of four Bombardier Challenger jets. According to the SherpaReport, which follows the private jet industry, the Bombardier Challenger 600 series CC-144 jet uses 340 gallons per hour of fuel. The Prime Minister’s entourage flew for 142 flight hours from May to August, meaning the jets used 48,280 gallons or almost 182,000 litres of jet fuel.
On June 17, the House of Commons, led by Liberal MPs, declared a climate change emergency.
Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, told CTV News Vancouver’s David Molko that the party should reimburse taxpayers for partisan activities.
“It’s a question whether the prime minister and ministers need to appear at so many announcements, especially in an age where this government in particular is really sensitive to carbon emissions,” Wudrick said. “Do we really need to be jetting across the country — essentially for photo ops? I don’t think it’s always necessary. So it’s not just a cost issue.”
Trudeau does not fly commercial for security reasons “whether he is on government business or not,” said the PMO’s Ann-Clara Vaillancourt to CTV News Vancouver.
“As was the case with previous Prime Ministers, when travelling solely for reasons that are not related to the government, a reimbursement is issued to an equivalent economy airfare,” Vaillancourt said.
As per government policy, when travel aboard the fleet is for personal reasons, a travel agent is asked for the lowest possible commercial fare on a comparable flight and an invoice issued to the traveler. But that only happened twice during the entire four-month period.
Documents obtained by theBreaker.news show DND sent Trudeau an invoice for $586.84 for a Mother’s Day weekend visit to Chicago, where his mother Margaret Trudeau was performing a one-woman play. Invoices totalling $2,450.73 were issued in September for airfare for the Tofino family vacation.
Combined, the reimbursements do not cover a full hour of the $5,637-per-hour cost of the flights on the government Challenger jets.
Liberal Party spokesman Braeden Caley, who was at the Grouse Grind event, said the events in late May and the end of August were added to other government travel plans.
“The Liberal Party of Canada fully complies with Elections Canada’s rules and regulations for all expenses, contributions, and reporting,” Caley said.
The Grouse Grind shoot was arranged by Toronto production company Suneeva and ad agency Oryx. Metro Vancouver charged a $5,000 deposit and $1,700 rental fee after originally rejecting the Grouse Grind for safety reasons. It suggested Capilano River Park or the Baden Powell Trail, according to Aug. 23 internal correspondence obtained under freedom of information, but the shoot went ahead anyway on the Grouse Grind.
While Trudeau flies the government’s private jets, Mexico’s president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has made headlines for flying economy on commercial flights and putting the presidential Boeing 787 up for sale.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his girlfriend flew commercial to the St. Lucia on a Christmas vacation. Similarly, Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan Markle, who are living part-time on Vancouver Island, have been spotted aboard Westjet flights. .
“Is it practical every trip? No. Can it be used? Yes, because we certainly have, as we’ve seen since 9/11, the capacity to know everybody who is on a plane, what they’re doing, where they’re traveling from, where they’re traveling to, and whether that passenger should be allowed to fly, a no-fly list,” Travis said.
“I’m certain the RCMP, with the resources it has and the the relationships it has, could, in fact, create a situation for the PM and entourage to be able to travel.”
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