04/24/2012 02:47 EDT | Updated 06/24/2012 05:12 EDT

Bev Oda Apology: Minister Sorry For Expensive London Hotel Switcheroo

OTTAWA - International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda called her pricey hotel upgrade in London, England, "unacceptable," apologizing for the extra costs at one of Britain's poshest establishments.

Oda's office had already announced she was repaying taxpayers for the cost of switching from one five-star hotel to the tony Savoy at more than the double the price, but Tuesday was the first time the minister had spoken publicly on the issue.

"Mr. Speaker, the expenses are unacceptable, should never have been charged to taxpayers, I have repaid the costs associated with the changing of hotels and I unreservedly apologize," Oda told the House of Commons.

Oda did not explain why she made the hotel switch, or why she was not reimbursing taxpayers for a luxury car and driver that shuttled her around London at nearly $1,000 a day.

The minister's office has emphasized the expenses did not break any government guidelines.

The London Evening Standard has called the Savoy, owned by Prince Alwaleed of Saudi Arabia, the most famous hotel in the city. It has been a favoured destination of royalty — the real kind, as well the Hollywood and rock-music variety.

Oda attended a conference on international immunizations last June, and had been booked at the Grange St. Paul's hotel where the meetings were being held.

But documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act showed Oda refused to stay at the first location, and was booked into the Savoy hotel two kilometres away for $665 a night.

The government was billed a cancellation fee for the Grange hotel of $287.

Oda repaid $1,353.81 to cover the difference between the two hotels, the cancellation fee, plus a $16 orange juice she had charged to her room.

The Liberals and NDP wanted to know about the other costs.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae noted that many employees at the Canadian International Development Agency were preparing for layoff notices because of $380 million in budget cuts announced late last month.

"How does the government justify the discrepancy in behaviour? A minister of the Crown is going around buying $16 orange juice and staying in rooms which are unaffordable," Rae said.

"How does the minister possibly justify this kind of an expense, this kind of an abuse? She has not paid back for the limousine."

Said New Democrat ethics critic Charlie Angus: "We are talking about a widespread pattern of her proclivity for luxury on the backs of the taxpayers. I did not hear that she is going to pay back that $1,000 limo ride. When will we hear that answer from the minister?"

Asked about Oda repaying taxpayers only after details had been publicized, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters, "Come on now, everyone tries to do the right thing."

In a similar case five years ago, Oda told the Commons she had partially repaid the government for her use of limousines. In 2006, she had spent $5,476 for the limos during the Juno awards in Halifax. She later reimbursed the government for $2,226 of the bill.

The conference Oda had been attending in London was for donors of the GAVI Alliance, an organization that helps fund immunizations to children in the developing world. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and British Prime Minister David Cameron also attended the meetings.

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