POLITICS

MPs' Travel Expenses Show That They Don't Fly Like The Rest Of Us

06/19/2015 04:47 EDT | Updated 06/19/2015 05:59 EDT
CP

TORONTO — MPs are fleeing Ottawa to head home for the summer and hit the campaign trail — and their flights to their ridings won’t be cheap.

NDP MP Megan Leslie’s travel expenses made headlines recently after the CBC reported a flight she took from Ottawa to Edmonton, then back to her home in Halifax cost taxpayers $6,365.83.

Leslie, who represents Halifax, was travelling to the NDP’s caucus meeting in Edmonton last September. In a Facebook post Tuesday, she acknowledged her flight cost was an "unacceptable amount."

“There were multiple legs to my trip,” she wrote. “While this still doesn't explain the total cost, it obviously added to the cost.”

Leslie is hardly the only MP to expense a pricey ticket. Simple trips between Ottawa and an MP’s riding can cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.

Thursday, the House of Commons released the Members’ Expenditure Report for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Included within that is the "Detailed Travel Points Report" — a 1,530-page document that lists MPs’ expenses, destinations, and purpose of travel, among other data.

The report shows many MPs from all three major parties expensed trips to their constituencies at prices more commonly associated with multi-city flights to international destinations.

Deepak Obhrai, Conservative MP for Calgary East, expensed $3,514.05 for two trips from Calgary to Ottawa and one from Ottawa to Calgary.

Some MPs managed to expense thousands of dollars for trips within the same province.

Liberal MP Frank Valeriote, for example, expensed $1,035.06 for one return trip between his Guelph riding and Ottawa. A return ticket on Via Rail, in economy class, from Ottawa to Guelph costs about $250. Valeriote's assistant told HuffPost the MP flew coach to Pearson and was aware of the cost.

Click through the slideshow below for more unusually priced trips. We've added each MPs' total travel expenses, too.

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How Much Do MPs' Trips Cost?



So why are MPs, from parties that claim to be looking out for the middle class, expensing business-class fares?

For starters, they can.

MPs travelling to ridings that are more than two hours away from Ottawa are eligible for business-class airfare if they book with the Commons’ Members’ Travel Services or if they use a flight pass.

Liberal MP Hedy Fry, who represents Vancouver Centre, travels frequently and needs to fly business so that she can get more work done, her executive assistant Ryan Cotter told HuffPost Canada in an email.

"A direct flight to Vancouver is 5 hours, but many times Dr. Fry has to make a connecting flight, which could make the length of the trip 8 to 9 hours in length," he wrote.

"By taking business class Dr. Fry can use this time to work while travelling, given that 10 to 20 hours a week are spent on a plane. This is valuable time that Dr. Fry requires to work."

Most of Fry's trips between Ottawa and Vancouver, according to the travel points report, cost between $2,398.63 and $2,730.41.

Her assistant said he books flights with the Members' Travel Services and she is notified of her trip's cost.

Leslie, however, wrote in her Facebook post that she was “not always aware of the cost of flights” because of the House of Commons travel system.

“I find it hard to believe that an airline can even charge so much money for a multi-leg flight, but evidently that was the case, and I missed it,” she wrote.

The Commons’ rules provide for 64 travel points per MP per year. A return trip to the riding counts for one point, while a one-way ticket is half a point.

The system is designed so that all MPs have access to the same travel budget regardless of where their constituency is located. An MP from the Northwest Territories, for example, isn’t unfairly penalized for living in a riding that costs significantly more to get to.

Heather Bradley, director of communications for House Speaker Andrew Scheer, told HuffPost that the purpose of the Members' Travel Services is to provide MPs with "the most economical airfare.”

Leslie said she would be "putting in place procedures” in her office to make sure she knows “explicitly” the cost of each flight.

“If is too expensive, we'll have to change my travel plans,” she said.