Stop billing tax­pay­ers for sports tick­ets, Baird says

De­part­ment of For­eign Af­fairs has run up $68,000 tab since 2006

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - GLEN MCGRE­GOR

The De­part­ment of For­eign Af­fairs paid nearly $10,000 for a Cana­dian diplo­mat to host a group of un­named busi­ness of­fi­cials in a pri­vate box at an NHL game last year.

A spokesman for For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter John Baird said the then-con­sul gen­eral to Buf­falo, Marta Moszczen­ska, hosted the pri­vate box event on March 20 at a game in Pitts­burgh, where the Pen­guins were play­ing the vis­it­ing Win­nipeg Jets.

The $9,957 charge for the pri­vate box at the Con­sol En­ergy Cen­ter was part of the $68,000 DFAIT has spent on tick­ets to pro­fes­sional hockey, base­ball, foot­ball and soc­cer games since 2006.

Press sec­re­tary Rick Roth said in an email that Baird has or­dered of­fi­cials in his de­part­ment to im­me­di­ately cease the prac­tice of charg­ing tax­pay­ers for sport­ing events.

“The min­is­ter did not ap­prove this ex­pen­di­ture and it was a com­pletely un­ac­cept­able use of tax­pay­ers dol­lars,” Roth wrote. “In this time of global eco­nomic un­cer­tainty, we must take ev­ery ef­fort to min­i­mize costs which is why our government has re­duced spend­ing on hos­pi­tal­ity by 33 per cent over the pre­vi­ous government.”

Roth would not say which busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives at­tended the game or why the con­sul gen­eral to Buf­falo was host­ing an event in Pitts­burgh, about three hours away.

The month fol­low­ing the game, the government said it planned to close down the Buf­falo con­sulate as a cost-cut­ting mea­sure and of­fer ser­vices in­stead through New York City.

“The Cana­dian government wants to bal­ance the bud­get and get rid of the deficit within two years,” Moszczen­ska told the Ni­a­gara Gazette last fall. “As a re­sult, it took a few Dra­co­nian mea­sures for us to achieve it.”

Moszczen­ska is now posted as a se­nior trade com­mis­sioner at the Cana­dian con­sulate in Los An­ge­les. The ticket ex­pense was re­vealed in a doc­u­ment tabled in the House of Com­mons on Mon­day in re­sponse to a writ­ten ques­tion from an NDP MP.

The ques­tion asked for a sum­mary of spend­ing by ev­ery de­part­ment on tick­ets to NHL games as well as Cana­dian Foot­ball League, Ma­jor League Base­ball and Ma­jor League Soc­cer games.

The De­part­ment of Na­tional De­fence said it couldn’t spend money on sport­ing events be­cause such costs would be con­sid­ered “ex­cep­tional hos­pi­tal­ity” and would re­quire ap­proval from the min­is­ter or deputy min­is­ter, un­der Trea­sury Board Sec­re­tariat rules.

The ex­pense listed by DFAIT was the only one for pro­fes­sional sports tick­ets re­ported by any de­part­ment in the last fis­cal year, although sev­eral de­part­ments said their ac­count­ing sys­tems could not fil­ter out those kind of records.

Trea­sury Board re­ported spend­ing $200 on hockey tick­ets in 2009-10 and an­other $908 in 2010-11. Th­ese tick­ets were “awarded to four em­ploy­ees un­der the pro­vi­sions of the in­ter­nal pol­icy on awards and recog­ni­tion.”

Veter­ans Af­fairs said it spent $300 in 2007 and $310 on CFL tick­ets to al­low veter­ans in­volved in com­mem­o­ra­tive cer­e­monies to see the game.

Sim­i­lar doc­u­ments tabled in the Com­mons re­vealed that tax­pay­ers are also on the hook for more than $1 mil­lion to ship ar­moured cars to In­dia last fall to drive Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper through the streets dur­ing an of­fi­cial visit there.

The fed­eral government’s costs stem from a C-17 Globe­mas­ter mil­i­tary air­craft used to trans­port the lim­ou­sines back and forth to Canada.

It was the first time the government has at­tached a cost es­ti­mate to the con­tro­ver­sial se­cu­rity mea­sure, which sparked ques­tions dur­ing Harper’s trip about why he didn’t just use ve­hi­cles of­fered by the In­dian government. The government cited an RCMP “threat as­sess­ment” that de­ter­mined there were no “ap­pro­pri­ate ve­hi­cles” avail­able in In­dia.

In the House of Com­mons Tues­day, the op­po­si­tion NDP blasted Harper for an in­ap­pro­pri­ate use of pub­lic funds.

“This is a government that has the nerve to tell se­nior ci­ti­zens that the cup­board is bare but money is no ob­ject when it comes to their cab­i­net perks,” said NDP MP Char­lie An­gus. He cas­ti­gated the government for spend­ing so much to trans­port Harper’s “per­sonal Taj Ma­hal taxi” to In­dia.

“Where is the accountability?” asked An­gus.

But Baird de­fended the prime min­is­ter — point­ing to a long his­tory of vi­o­lence in In­dia, in­clud­ing po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tions.

“The peo­ple of In­dia paid a very heavy price when it comes to the war on ter­ror,” said Baird. “They’ve lost two prime min­is­ters in the past 25 years.”

Fur­ther­more, he pointed to the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Mum­bai in which many peo­ple were killed.

“When we look to the se­cu­rity of the prime min­is­ter, we con­sult the ex­perts. And when it comes to the na­tional se­cu­rity and the se­cu­rity of our prime min­is­ter, we will take the ad­vice of the RCMP over the NDP ev­ery sin­gle time.”

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