POLITICS

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Visit To Canada Cost Taxpayers $373,000

09/16/2015 08:49 EDT | Updated 09/16/2015 08:59 EDT

OTTAWA — A three-day visit by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this year cost taxpayers more than $373,000 — including almost $17,600 on beverages including alcohol, $80,000 on receptions, and $106,400 on a motorcade.

The costs of the visit were provided to The Huffington Post Canada under the Access to Information Act. They included $10,448 on hotel rooms, $30,000 on audio visual equipment, $21,708 on unspecified consultants, $73,213 on public servants’ travel, $14,790 on health services, $3,656,54 on flowers and wreaths, $1,584 on gifts, $5,981 on interpreters and translation and $75 for a flag. The bill did not include security costs.

The largest expenses during Modi’s visit — a gathering at an arena in downtown Toronto, at which Conservative Leader Stephen Harper spoke to 10,000 members of the Indo-Canadian community and Modi was feted as a rock star — wasn’t borne by taxpayers but by private citizens and businesses. The event at the Ricoh Coliseum cost about $600,000, the president of National Alliance of Indo-Canadians’ Azad Kumar Kaushik told HuffPost.

Although Harper spoke, and was featured prominently in the evening’s program, Kaushik said organizers didn’t see it as a campaign-style event. He acknowledged, however, that the visibility was certainly a benefit to the party leader.

“We didn’t look at it from [an electoral] perspective,” Kaushik said. “Our goal was to create bonding between India and Canada.”

The group wanted to promote enhanced investment and business opportunities, as well as remind the Indian government that Canada is home to an important diaspora whose needs shouldn’t be ignored.

Kaushik said his group invited Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, and Conservative MP Patrick Brown who was campaigning fiercely at the time for the Ontario PC leadership and and hosted Modi as a surprise guest to his hospitality suite.

Timmins James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson told HuffPost that Brown, who is now the leader of the Progressive Conservatives, should pay taxpayers back for some of the cost of the Modi visit.

“You can’t have somebody do a political activity and then have it paid by the state,” Bisson said. “It was a pretty big thing for Mr. Brown’s leadership bid, to have this person show up, and say he’s my boy, especially in the community that he was trying to get all kinds of memberships signed up to.

Brown and Modi have been friends for several years, and the backbench Ontario MP called upon that friendship to help him win the leadership race.

Bisson said he welcomed Modi’s visit to Canada but felt Brown should repay some of the travel and security costs that taxpayers bore to help him campaign.

“We need to have a great relationship with India. It’s an important ally for Canada. We don’t have any argument with us having to pay for our share of what that visit cost, but you cannot have him go to what is a political event and endorse a candidate for whatever. And if that’s the case, Mr. Brown should think about having to pay back his share of the costs.”

Brown did not return repeated requests for comment.

The National Alliance of Indo-Canadians told HuffPost it didn’t invite any other federal party leaders, because it was told the Prime Minister’s Office and the federal government would take care of protocol matters.

“We were told the federal protocol will be followed,” Kaushik said. The group was asked by the Prime Minister’s Office to set aside 200 to 300 seats for VIPs, he added. “These are things beyond us, we are simple community people.”

Thomas Mulcair was not invited to the Toronto event, his party confirmed. He was invited to meet with Modi but was unable to because of his own tour schedule, an NDP spokeswoman told Postmedia News.

Justin Trudeau was also not invited to the Toronto event, but the Liberal leader met with Modi in a private meeting organized with the High Commission of India, his office said.

“We did not receive any formal invitations to attend any of the events organized by the Government of Canada,” Liberal spokesman Jean-Luc Ferland added.

Several Conservative MPs — and Tory candidates — flocked to Modi’s side during his three-day visit in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, where they crowded around the Indian prime minister in order to fit in the photo frames.

Six Conservatives MPs — including members from B.C., Alta., and various Ontario ridings with a large Indo-Canadian community — were in Ottawa, on the tarmac to meet Modi when he arrived on April 14, 2015. The NDP told The Ottawa Citizen that their local MP, Paul Dewar, wasn’t invited.

When Modi arrived in Toronto, Harper and his wife were there to greet him along with six local Conservative MPs from ridings with large Indo-Canadian communities. There were no opposition MPs present. Several MPs posted pictures of the event on their websites.

The next day, when Modi arrived in Vancouver, Harper was again there to greet him along with five local Conservative MPs. Several Conservative candidates also showed up to the event and posted a picture on their websites or social feeds.

No opposition members were invited to any of these events.

The department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, which is responsible for protocol at such functions, said it invites guests as directed by the government.

“Official Events division extends invitations to official events at the request and on behalf of the host,” spokesman François Lasalle said in an email.

Conservative party spokesman Stephen Lecce, however, denied opposition MPs had been shut out from meeting Modi.

“That is false. Members of the Opposition were invited to partake in components of the historic visit of Prime Minister Modi to Canada,” he wrote in an email.

Bisson told HuffPost the Conservatives had politicized Modi’s visit for their own gain.

“I think that was kind of small of the part of the government.”

Opposition MPs should be present, and these should be “non-partisan” events, he said.

“Here at Queen's Park, often what happens when a foreign dignitary visits is that members of all parties are invited to show up. Not always, but that is normally the case, and I think that is the right thing to do, because they are visiting Canada. It’s a Parliament in Canada. We don’t just have an executive, we have a Parliament,” he said.

Modi’s trip was the first official visit by an Indian prime minister in more than 40 years.

It resulted in several memoranda of understanding on a variety of issues, the finalizing of a social security agreement, changes to the way India issues visas, and several commercial agreements, including a huge uranium deal with Saskatchewan-based Cameco.

For comparison purposes, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Ottawa on September, 2011 cost the department $68,614.07. Foreign Affairs spent $425,000 on U.S. President Barack Obama’s first official visit — with another $1 million spent on security.

Foreign Affairs said Mulcair and Trudeau had been invited to 10 events since each became leader of his party:

May 2, 2013

Reception in honour of President of the Republic of Estonia and Mrs. Evelin Ilves

Host: Prime Minister of Canada

Invited: Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau

July 1, 2013

Canada Day reception with heads of diplomatic missions

Host: Minister of Foreign Affairs

Invited: Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau

December 12, 2013

Christmas dinner-reception in honour of the heads of diplomatic missions

Host: Speaker of the Senate, Speaker of the House and Minister of Foreign Affairs

Invited: Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau

2014

June 9, 2014

PM Australia dinner

Host: Prime Minister of Canada

Invited: Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau

July 1, 2014

Canada Day Reception with Heads of Mission

Host: Minister of Foreign Affairs

Invited: Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau

October 28, 2014

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry Reception

Host: Minister of Foreign Affairs

Invited: Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau

Nov. 3, 2014

President of France business luncheon

Host: Prime Minister of Canada

Invited: Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau

Dec. 18, 2014

Christmas dinner-reception in honour of the heads of diplomatic missions

Host: Speaker of the Senate, Speaker of the House and Minister of Foreign Affairs

Invited: Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau

2015

Feb. 25, 2015

Bill Gates Reception

Host: Minister of Development and Minister for La Francophonie

Invited: Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau

July 1, 2015

Reception followed by fireworks on the occasion of Canada Day

Host: Minister of Foreign Affairs

Invited: Thomas Mulcair, Justin Trudeau

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