POLITICS

Joe Oliver's Unpaid Hotel Bill Caused Departmental Headache

02/16/2015 09:53 EST | Updated 02/16/2015 09:59 EST
CP

The minister in charge of paying Canada's bills forgot to pay one of his own.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver neglected to pay his hotel tab in Wakefield, Que., last August at the conclusion of a major policy retreat with economists, bankers, business leaders and others.

His room bill for $168.15 was left unpaid for more than two months, until the Auberge Le Moulin Wakefield raised the delicate matter with a Finance Canada official, Rick LeBlanc, in late October.

Leblanc then used his departmental MasterCard to clear his boss's debt for the Aug. 11-12 one-night stay, causing paperwork headaches for the bureaucracy.

"So, it does not appear that this issue will be solved easily," says an Oct. 21 email from a senior accounting official at Finance.

"That said, given the amount involved and the fact that the vendor has now not been paid for two months, I am recommending that they be paid immediately … This will at least get the issue off your plates."

A department insider who requested anonymity called the unpaid bill "an oversight. Didn't realize when we left. Obviously (we) didn't want to stiff the hotel."

Policy retreat cost $16,805

The two-day policy retreat, a summer tradition begun by Oliver's predecessor, the late Jim Flaherty, cost taxpayers a total of $16,805. Most participants paid their own travel, but Finance Canada picked up the bills for food, beer and wine served at the Auberge.

The dinner menu included shaved asparagus daikon salad, strawberry confit, shaved prosciutto, manchego cheese, toasted pine nuts and mustard lemon dressing as just one of three appetizer courses.

The 17 invited guests were largely from the business world, but also included an academic, the head of a charity and a journalist, Peter Foster.

Total costs were slightly higher than the previous two summer retreats, each of which cost taxpayers about $16,400.

Oliver also met with his provincial counterparts in Ottawa on Dec. 14-15, at a gathering that cost an estimated $21,700, including almost $13,000 for hospitality. Wine was served at the dinners, and small receptions were held for provincial ministers and their deputy ministers.

Documents related to the meetings were obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

Finance Canada spent a total of $2.8 million on hospitality and travel in 2013-2014, up more than $100,000 from the previous year. The department says the higher costs were partly because of the extra costs of travel to G-20 summits that year.

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