OTTAWA — Chrystia Freeland was in the hot seat Tuesday, accused by the Conservatives of spending thousands of taxpayers dollars on a vanity trip to Los Angeles — but the international trade minister was ready for the attacks with barbs of her own.
Four Conservatives MPs stood up one by one — seven questions in all — to raise the spectre that Freeland had spent $20,000 to appear on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" in November.
Alberta Tory MP Blaine Calkins said he had emails obtained under the Access to Information Act that showed Freeland's staff were scrambling to put a program together and begging Los Angeles Times journalists to be interviewed.
International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks in the House of Commons on Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)
"Why does the minister continue to claim the trip was about Canadian business interests when it was actually all about her?" he asked.
Canadian officials were caught off-guard by the visit, he suggested.
"L.A. Consul General [James] Villeneuve noted there ‘seems to be a bit of confusion.' The global affairs director general of communications was also confused, saying in emails, ‘What is she doing in L.A.? Besides the Bill Maher show?" Calkin said. "Clearly, this was a personal trip built around her TV appearance."
Freeland said the Tories were once again "trying to create a story where there is none."
Unlike Harper, 'we get invited': Freeland
"The media appearances were part of the official visit, along with six business round tables. It is my job to promote Canada to the world," she told the House.
"Let me remind [the Conservative opposition] that their own leader, the former prime minister [Stephen Harper], spent $50,000 of taxpayer money to get himself U.S. media appearances," Freeland said. "We do not need to do that. We get invited."
Harper's office hired Ari Fleischer, a former spokesman for U.S. president George W. Bush, twice during the prime minister's mandate, at a cost of $24,500 a pop, to help manage U.S. media relations.
Minister lists interviews
Freeland said she is proud to speak to the international media.
"Just yesterday, I gave an interview to Politico in Washington," she said. "As minister, I would like to list some of the other international interviews I have done. I have done an interview with MSNBC, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the LA Times, and the Financial Times," she said, while the Tories yelled out "More! More!" and egged her on.
"I have done three BBC interviews. I have spoken to EU Trade Insights. I spoke to La Libra; Deutsche Welle, the German TV; Luberg Television; Handelsblatt [a German newspaper]," she said.
Conservative Blaine Calkins rises in the House of Commons Monday April 11, 2016 in Ottawa. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)
Later, under questioning by Quebec Tory MP Jacques Gourde, Freeland said the Liberal government didn't have to pay "Republican hacks" to organize media appearances.
But Ontario Conservative MP Karen Vecchio didn't care about media interviews. She wanted to know how it was possible to believe Freeland was on government business when her staff was informed only two days before the trip that she would be in L.A.
"When will the minister pay back the money for this vanity trip?" she asked.
Freeland ignored her and went on to list some of the business meetings she had in California.
"Here are some of the people I met with," she told the House of Commons. "Jim Haney, senior VP and general manager of City National Bank, recently acquired by RBC; Greg Foster, CEO of IMAX; Creative BC, and Trade and Invest BC, who were there; John Chiang, the treasurer of the State of California; and Jeff Gorell, deputy mayor.
"Other meetings I had there included a reception with the Friends of British Columbia, a meeting with Los Angeles economic leaders," she added before her mic was cut off for going too long.
Prove it, veteran Tory says
Saskatchewan Conservative MP Gerry Ritz said he wanted to know what important agreements Freeland had signed during her visit to California, an assertion made Monday in the House by Government Leader Dominic Leblanc.
"Will she table these important agreements immediately, keeping in mind that credit card receipts and the waiver for Bill Maher do not count?"
Freeland didn't mention any agreements. Instead, she accused the Tories of not liking the media.
"We understand it is our job to talk to the media at home and abroad," the trade minister said. "I want to point out that I appeared in the media in California with some important Canadian partners, Senator Angus King of Maine, and the California lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom.
"They all happened to be sitting on the same panel show, so they do not count as individuals," Ritz shot back.
While the Tories pegged the cost of Freeland's trip from Manila, the Philippine capital, to Los Angeles and back to Canada at $20,000, a Liberal spokesperson told HuffPost that Freeland's trade mission to L.A. had cost approximately $14,000, including the cost of a staffer accompanying her.
With a previous file
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