OTTAWA - The Harper government is making no apologies for spending more than $20,000 to ferry three cabinet ministers around the tiny Swiss village of Davos last year.
Documents obtained by the NDP show that four vehicles were hired at a cost of just over $23,000 while the ministers attended an exclusive retreat for government and business leaders from around the globe.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, then industry minister Tony Clement and then international trade minister Peter Van Loan represented Canada at the annual Davos conference in 2011.
According to the government, only environmentally friendly vehicles are allowed during the Davos conference and the four rental cars were the cheapest available that met the green requirement.
Clement and Van Loan said it was money well spent, that their time was spent touting Canada's economic record and luring investors.
But opposition MPs questioned why the ministers couldn't simply have walked around the village.
"You know, Davos isn't a big place," New Democrat MP Charlie Angus said Tuesday.
He noted that the invoice for two Lexus vehicles and two Nissans shows the government was charged only $123.50 for gas. Given the price of gas, Angus said it appears the cars weren't driven very far.
"So it seems to me we're paying for an awful lot of nothing right now."
In the House of Commons, Angus linked the cost of the Davos vehicles to recent revelations of extravagant travel expenses, including a $16 glass of orange juice, racked up by International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda.
He demanded that Flaherty, Clement and Van Loan pay back the cost of the vehicles, as Oda was shamed into doing for some of her questionable expenses.
Angus accused ministers of thinking they're "entitled to act like the Hapsburg dynasty as soon as they leave Canada," while preaching austerity to Canadians at home.
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae has himself attended the Davos conference in years past. While he said it's a worthwhile expense to have the Canadian government represented, he said there's no reason to spend more than $20,000 for cars to get around.
"Davos is a little ski village. You go from your hotel to the conference centre. Maybe you go to a restaurant but you can always hook a ride with somebody," Rae said.
"It might be good for everyone if people walked from the hotel to the conference centre. It's snowy. It's very nice and pleasant. You put your rubber boots on and you're there."
Van Loan, now the government's House leader, told the Commons the vehicles were used by staff and departmental officials, as well as ministers. Moreover, he said they were booked by departmental officials "following a competition."
"Davos has limitations. It requires that when attending the conference, all vehicles must fit a certain profile. They have to be green vehicles," Van Loan said.
Clement, now Treasury Board president, later told reporters the cars were "the least expensive that met the rules of the forum."
Both ministers said the expense was worth it.
"We make no apologies for being there to make sure that those who want to invest, those who want to see economic growth, those who are looking for the best place in the world to invest are following the lead of people ... who have said that Canada is exactly that," Van Loan told the Commons.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the prestigious Davos conference himself this year. He used the occasion to signal his government's plan to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security benefits.