Stop billing taxpayers for sports tickets, Baird says
Department of Foreign Affairs has run up $68,000 tab since 2006
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.”