POLITICS

'Clerical Errors' Overstated Gordon Campbell Expenses

07/18/2012 06:02 EDT | Updated 09/17/2012 05:12 EDT
CP/GNM
Foreign Affairs Canada has altered an online record of hospitality expense claims for the high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Gordon Campbell, citing “clerical errors.”

The revised reports, posted on the department’s website under proactive disclosure rules, cut the top diplomat’s claims in half — from the original $67,296 posted to the current $33,975.

At least six dinners and receptions were either eliminated or reduced after a report on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics detailed how Campbell’s claims were nearly three times more than those of any other Canadian ambassador posted abroad.

Even with the revisions, the former premier of British Columbia’s hospitality claims still top diplomats from all other Canadian missions, including Washington, Beijing and Tokyo.

Department spokesman Jean-Bruno Villeneuve said initial data postings were reported inaccurately on the government website, and that other departments or private-sector partners actually shared costs of some events.

One major change was to a Jan. 24, 2012, reception, initially recorded at $33,436 but amended to $4,227 for the high commissioner’s share.

Changes were made overnight Tuesday after the CBC report Monday outlined Campbell's hospitality expenses for the first five months of this year, including three tuxedo rentals for $600.

Last fiscal year, Canada's expenditure for hospitality abroad was $5,994,922, nearly on par with the previous year’s $6,115,460.

Despite cutbacks across federal government departments, foreign affairs spokesman Ian Trites said hospitality budgets have been preserved at current levels this year, noting that hospitality is “a necessity of the business of diplomacy” that is extended with the taxpayer “top of mind.”

Large U.K. mission

He also noted that the London mission is one of Canada's largest abroad, reflecting the U.K.’s “importance to Canadian economic and security interests.”

“As such, the High Commission’s hospitality expenses are in line with the pivotal role it plays in promoting Canada’s economic and foreign policy priorities abroad,” he said.

Another departmental official also noted Tuesday that London is hosting the Olympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year.

And Rick Roth, press secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, issued an additional statement late Tuesday on behalf of the minister.

“Our government respects taxpayers’ dollars and is intent on ensuring that Canadian diplomacy provides value for money,” the statement said. “That's why we have seen a decrease in hospitality spending this year compared to last and a significant decrease in spending compared to the previous government.”

But Jordan Bateman, the B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, questioned why Campbell’s claims were higher than other expensive cities that share close diplomatic ties with Canada — and why they were modified only after the media spotlight.

He called it “troubling” that federal cutbacks are affecting core services such as the coast guard, yet hospitality spending for diplomats remains untouched.

“Almost every other aspect of government has been asked to tighten their belts, yet this hospitality spending seems to fly under the radar,” Bateman told CBC News. “It’s not fair to the public service or to taxpayers.”

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