POLITICS
03/28/2014 10:33 EDT | Updated 03/28/2014 11:59 EDT

Peter MacKay Toasted At Taxpayer-Funded Party After Cabinet Shuffle

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OTTAWA — A 50-person guard of honour, the Canadian Forces' Central Band and a reception with waiters serving beef wellington, lobster in filo and bacon-wrapped scallops highlighted Peter MacKay's taxpayer-funded goodbye as minister of the Department of National Defence last year.

Documents released under the Access to Information Act show the Canadian Armed Forces wanted to provide a fitting tribute to MacKay, who had been Conservative defence minister for six years before being shuffled to the Justice Department last July.

"In consideration of the tireless dedication and leadership that Minister MacKay provided the Department of National Defence during his time as minister, it seems befitting to honour his service this way," a briefing note to current Defence Minister Rob Nicholson states.

Nicholson accepted the request to spend $1,591.89 on a reception for his colleague.

The midweek afternoon event, held on Sept. 4, 2013, included a cash bar, open from 1 to 3:30 p.m., and hors d'oeuvres passed around by waiters. The menu for 120 attendees at the Rockliffe Lounge in the Warrant Officers' & Sergeants' Mess included: 60 servings of 1-ounce Beef Wellington bites, 120 bacon-wrapped scallops, 60 fig and goat cheese filo pastries, 60 pieces of brie and cranberry in filo, 120 servings of lobster in filo, 60 portions of chicken satay and 120 mini spring rolls. There were also cheese, cracker and fruit trays laid out for a cold buffet, as well as tea, coffee and juices.

The bulk of the reception budget, $1,179.44, was spend on food and non-alcoholic beverages. Another $271.20 went for labour, the wait staff and the bartender’s tips, and $141.25 for administration fees.

The cost of the guard of honour and the Central Band was not included on the total bill because, department spokesman Daniel Blouin said, its members were federal government employees paid during a regular work day.

"If they are ordered to play at an event, then that performance is their duty for the day. There are no additional costs to the department as a result of the performance," he said.

Costs associated with ferrying senior members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the department to and from the event at the Cartier Square Drill hall were also excluded. Blouin said that all VIPs who do not have a personal driver — those other than the minister, deputy minister and chief of the defence staff, for example — would have shared transportation through DND vans.

"We're curious why they didn't have the minister dropped in to the event by a search and rescue helicopter," the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Greg Thomas joked. MacKay found himself in hot water a few years ago after he had a Cormorant helicopter pick him up at a private fishing lodge and fly him to the Gander Airport.

In the end, the reception for MacKay came in slightly under budget at $1,425.00.

Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray told The Huffington Post Canada that the reception was yet another example of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's poor judgment and misplaced priorities.

"They're perfectly willing to cut services for those in the Canadian Armed Forces and our veterans in the name of austerity, but have no problem throwing themselves lavish parties loaded with lobster and canapés," she said.

"It shows poor judgement on the part of Minister Nicholson for approving the party, Minister MacKay for encouraging it, and the prime minister for appointing the two of them," she added.

The Canadian Forces, which prepared the briefing note, noted that former defence minister Gordon O'Connor received a similar reception on Oct. 2, 2007, when he left the department. His reception included brief speeches by the deputy minister and the chief of the defence staff and several presentations, as well as a reception with honour guard, band and cash bar. The cost of that reception was $1,214.31.

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