OTTAWA - Travel rules that apply to federal ministers appear to be about as firm — and as fat-conscious — as the clotted cream on the scones at London's swishy Savoy Hotel.

The office of Bev Oda says the international co-operation minister "followed the appropriate guidelines" when she upgraded from one five-star hotel in London, England, to the Savoy for more than double the cost last June.

Oda also hired a luxury car and driver to shuttle her around for an average of nearly $1,000 a day.

Treasury Board Secretariat's "Policies for Ministers' Offices," revised in January 2011, says ministers are not subject to government-wide rules for travel, laid out by the Public Service Commission's national joint council.

And the travel policy nowhere specifically states that ministers should seek out the most cost-effective accommodations, flights or meals.

"Although ministers are excluded from the requirement to follow the National Joint Council Travel Directive, it is recommended that ministers refer to that document, since it provides good examples of expenditures that are considered appropriate for program-related business travel," says the policy.

The rest of the guidelines deal largely with the administrative side of travel, such as how to submit paperwork and whether frequent-flyer points can be collected.

Political staffers and departmental executives, however, are subject to the travel directive, which spells out dozens of rules covering issues such as the purchase of bottled water and staying at a private residence (a preferred option when possible, according to the document).

First-class travel has been forbidden for everyone since 1992, although there are some exceptions to that rule. And a minister can upgrade his or her political staff to business class with a stroke of a pen.

Although Oda didn't break any of those Treasury Board guidelines for ministers, it appears the government felt she did break a covenant with the taxpayer.

She apologized "unreservedly" this week for the hotel switch, calling it "unacceptable" and repaying a portion of the expenses.

But the opposition continued to hammer the Conservatives on the issue, pointing out she has not repaid any fees associated with the car and driver. The hotel Oda was supposed to stay at, the Grange St. Paul's, was the site of the conference on international immunizations she was attending.

"This is a minister who was found in contempt of the Canadian Parliament, a minister who has racked up thousands of dollars in frivolous bills, a minister who tells hard-working Canadians that 'I'm sorry, a five-star hotel just isn't posh enough for me,'" said New Democrat ethics critic Charlie Angus.

"So if she will not answer, I will ask the man in charge. When he has an ethically challenged minister, what does she have to do in order to get kicked out of his Cadillac cabinet?"

Tory House Leader Peter Van Loan said his government had reduced ministerial travel expenses by 15 per cent compared with what the previous Liberal government was spending prior to 2006.

"In terms of accountability, the minister has been fully accountable, was accountable in this House and has repaid all inappropriate expenses," said Van Loan.

"The important consideration for all taxpayers is that the government is interested in seeing that taxpayer dollars are respected and managed carefully."

Related on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Top 5 Political Spending Scandals

    Here are a few examples of some red-faced moments in public expense reports, in which those involved likely wished they had gone back and done -- or in the case of David Dingwall, said -- a few things differently.<br><br><em>With files from CBC</em><br><br>(CP/Getty)

  • 5. Cleaning The Moat

    Britain's parliamentarians became embroiled in scandal in 2009 over their declared expenses after the Daily Telegraph obtained an uncensored copy of their claims and published them.<br><br> Details disclosed by the newspaper showed how MPs from all parties manipulated rules by routinely switching the designation of their second home -- using public money to furnish and improve several properties and later sell them at a profit.<br><br> Facing fierce public fury as embarrassing details emerged daily, nearly 400 British MPs, including then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, were ordered to pay back close to $2 million in wrongfully claimed expenses.<br><br> But amid the outrage, one the most publicized cases was of that then Conservative MP Douglas Hogg, who was alleged to have expensed the cleaning of a moat at his family's country estate. Hogg agreed to repay the cost of cleaning the moat, but insisted he had only listed the cleaning cost as an expenditure on his house and never asked to be reimbursed. He decided not to stand for his seat in the 2010 election.<br><br> (MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • 4. EHealth Ontario

    A scandal broke out in Ontario in 2009 over wasteful and untendered consulting contracts at eHealth, a provincial Crown corporation charged with creating an electronic health records system. The controversy over eHealth's spending led to the resignation of then Health Minister David Caplan.<br><br> Among the embarrassing revelations at eHealth, CBC News obtained documents that showed consultants, contracted by eHealth at up to $2,750 a day, billed taxpayers for out-of-pocket expenses that included $1.65 for a cup of tea and $3.99 for cookies.<br><br> The documents said eHealth CEO and president Sarah Kramer billed thousands of dollars for limousine rides, including one $400 trip from Toronto to London, Ont., before she left her $380,000-a-year job in June of that year.<br><br>(CP)

  • 3. Nova Scotia MLA Scandal

    Nova Scotia's provincial legislature was rocked by a report by the provincial auditor general that found that many MLAs submitted questionable expense claims over a number of years. The affair evolved into a criminal investigation that led to several MLAs resigning and at least one former member being sentenced to prison.<br><br> Ex-Liberal MLA Dave Wilson, pictured, pleaded guilty to defrauding Nova Scotia taxpayers of nearly $61,000 to support his gambling addiction and was sentenced last week to nine months of jail time and 18 months of probation. Crown attorneys in his case detailed how Wilson submitted 36 false expense receipts using five people's names -- including his niece and brother-in-law -- totalling $60,995. Wilson apologized to his family and the people of the province, telling the court he was deeply ashamed of his actions.<br><br>(CP)

  • 2. George Radwanski

    Former federal privacy commissioner George Radwanski resigned in 2003 under a cloud following intense scrutiny of his spending. At the time, Radwanski blamed "a powerful political backlash from some who would prefer a less forceful privacy commissioner." His severance package was initially $82,562, but later cut to nothing.<br><br> Radwanski resigned after a Commons committee called for a full audit of Radwanski's expense claims, which included more than $500,000 in travel claims, $250 drinks tabs and dinner bills of more than $450, usually shared with one staff member.<br><br> Auditor General Sheila Fraser's report called for an RCMP investigation of Radwanski after her department's audit revealed "a major failure of management controls and the abuse of public funds by the former commissioner and some senior executives, for their personal benefit."<br><br> In 2009, an Ontario judge acquitted Radwanski of criminal fraud charges, but criticized his "negligent and cavalier" approach to accounting for controversial expenses he claimed while in office. Radwanski's former chief of staff, Art Lamarche, was convicted of breach of trust. Radwanski acknowledged he wished he had done some things differently, but insisted he "never acted dishonestly or knowingly improperly in any way." <br><br>(CP)

  • 1. 'I'm Entitled To My Entitlements'

    In February 2006, former Liberal cabinet minister David Dingwall was awarded $417,780 in compensation after an independent arbitrator concluded he was forced out of his $277,000-a-year job as head of the Royal Canadian Mint.<br><br> His removal from the head of the Crown corporation came amid a frenzy caused by unproven allegations that he and his office made improper and excessive expense claims, as the then Liberal government was reeling from the inquiry into the federal sponsorship scandal.<br><br> Opposition MPs, including then Opposition Leader Stephen Harper, portrayed the Dingwall case as a sign of Liberal misspending, accusing him of wasting taxpayers' money on reimbursement claims for expensive meals, excessive travel and even a pack of chewing gum. In the midst of the controversy over his resignation and compensation package, Dingwall drew the scorn of opposition parties when he said the now notorious words to a Commons committee: "I'm entitled to my entitlements."<br><br> Harper's party picked up the phrase and used it repeatedly as an example of Liberal arrogance during the campaign leading up to the Jan. 23, 2006, general election.<br><br> In fact, an independent audit of the expenses by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers later found that more than 70 per cent of them were incurred by other employees in Dingwall's office at the Mint, and that all the payments had been properly approved under the Crown corporation's guidelines.<br><br> A second independent review by law firm Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt concluded the governance of expendures at the Mint went "well beyond what one could expect to find in most private-sector corporations."<br><br>(CP)


ODA'S FAVOURITE LONDON HOTEL SAVOY
  • Savoy Hotel

    The Savoy hotel name is lit in green neon at the front entrance on December 6, 2007 in London. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Prince Charles At The Savoy

    Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales leaves after the Savoy hotel's grand re-opening on November 2, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images for The Savoy)

  • Savoy Hotel

    (Savoy/Fairmont Hotels)

  • Savoy Hotel

    (Savoy/Fairmont Hotels)

  • Savoy Hotel

    (Savoy/Fairmont Hotels)

  • Savoy Hotel

    (Savoy/Fairmont Hotels)

  • Savoy Hotel

    Actor Stephen Fry enters the Savoy Hotel. (Savoy/Fairmont Hotels)

  • Savoy Hotel

    (Savoy/Fairmont Hotels)

  • Savoy Hotel

    (Savoy/Fairmont Hotels)

  • Prince Charles At The Savoy

    Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales greets chefs at the Savoy hotels grand re-opening on November 2, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Roland Hoskins - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

  • Savoy Hotel

    Doorman Tony Cortegaca stands at the entrance to the Savoy Hotel on December 6, 2007 in London. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Savoy Hotel

    A statue of a black cat called Kaspar sits at the entrance to the Savoy Hotel on December 6, 2007 in London. Kaspar the cat, carved in the 1920s from a single piece of wood by designer Basil Ionides, is placed on the table of 13 guests dining in private at the Savoy. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Savoy Hotel

    LONDON - DECEMBER 06: A member of staff checks glasses on a table in the ballroom at the Savoy Hotel on December 6, 2007 in London. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Savoy Hotel

    A worker cleans the revolving doors in the main entrance lobby of The Savoy hotel on December 6, 2007 in London. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Savoy Hotel Contents To Be Auctioned Off

    Two concierges man the front desk at the Savoy Hotel on December 6, 2007 in London. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Savoy Hotel

    Workers continue the 220 million GBP refurbishment of the Savoy hotel on August 10, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

  • Savoy Hotel

    Breakfast is prepared at the Savoy Hotel on December 6, 2007 in London (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

  • Savoy Hotel

    The Savoy hotel name is lit in green neon at the front entrance on December 6, 2007 in London. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)