The Tories came under attack Wednesday after CTV revealed more than $600,000 was paid to cabinet ministers' drivers for overtime.
Using documents obtained under Access to Information Laws, CTV found that between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2011, nearly every ministers' chauffeur claimed hundreds of hours in overtime.
Liberal ethics critic Scott Andrews said the lineup of ministers cars, which can normally be seen outside Parliament, was missing on Wednesday. "We noticed today they're all hiding out around back," Andrews told Postmedia. "They're afraid to roll into Parliament in their black little limos today."
NDP MP Charlie Angus took the Tories to task in question period, accusing ministers of living the good life while the government makes deep cuts to the public service. "How do the Conservatives have the nerve to tell Canadians that the cupboard is bare while ministers on the front benches are stuffing themselves on perks and entitlements?," Angus asked.
Tony Clement, whose driver was on standby for more than 360 days last year (6,548 hours), responded for the Tories, arguing the overtime was fair pay for necessary work. "Our ministers are working long hours for the economy, long hours for jobs, long hours for the people of Canada. Sometimes that means a bit of overtime by the drivers."
Angus was not subdued, pointing to Clement's standby bill. "For crying out loud, even Batman drives his own car," Angus said.
Clement then denied paying his driver 360 days of overtime (it was standby) and said the government would look at any suggestions from the Opposition on how to cut car costs.
Stephen Harper's 26 cabinet ministers and 11 junior ministers each get a car and driver. Salaries range from $46,883 to 50,755.
Only Gary Lunn opted not to hire a chauffeur. Peter Mackay, Julian Fantino and Jean-Pierre Blackburn all classified their drivers as exempt from overtime by making them ministerial support staff.
The prime minister himself must travel in government-owned vehicles for reasons of security.
International Co-Operation Minister Bev Oda made headlines last month after it was revealed she had switched from one five star hotel to another in London, England at a substantial cost to taxpayers. Oda paid the difference in cost back after the story broke.
Her nearly $3,000 bill for a car service, which wouldn't have been necessary if she had remained in the original accommodations, gained special attention after Oda initially failed to pay the money back. After harsh criticism, Oda reimbursed the government for the car as well.
On Wednesday, NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice accused the Tories of living like blue bloods. "Has the Conservative aristocracy decided to take full advantage of their perks at taxpayers' expense because it realizes that this will be its last term of office?" Boulerice asked. "Before slashing essential services for Canadians, could the members of cabinet stop behaving like royalty?"
Most Driver Overtime Spending In Cabinet
Here's a list of the 10 cabinet ministers whose drivers accumulated the most overtime from April 1, 2010 until March 31, 2011. See the detailed list on CTV's website.
Tony Clement, pictured, doesn't make the top 10 for dollar spending, but he's top of the list for standby, with a total of 6,548 hours logged.
10. Keith Ashfield - $21,890.75
9. Lisa Raitt - $22,446.86
8. Denis Lebel - $25,046.34
7. Lawrence Cannon - $25,749.59
6. Rob Merrifield - $26,092.19
5. Jason Kenney - $26,702.87
4. Gerry Ritz - $27,817.25
3. Jim Flaherty - $34,941.14
2. Diane Finley - $36,027.78
1. Rona Ambrose - $38,383.95