Bloc Québécois MP Julie Vignola motioned to call up more witnesses and go through all of Gov. Gen. Mary Simon’s travel expenses since 2015 after being misled by witnesses who tried to downplay a Middle East trip that may have cost almost $100,000 in catering.
Vignola said she received about 500 emails from taxpayers who were upset about the spending, and Conservative MP Kelly McCauley said he received about 1,300 in one day.
Vignola requested three meetings with witnesses from the Department of National Defense, Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development, Department of Canadian Heritage, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
She said that the committee should be given a report about accommodation costs, catering costs, caterer costs, travel costs, security costs, and the cost of alcohol and drinks. She said the information should indicate the number of people in each delegation.
“After our committee meeting, we were made aware of details by way of a newspaper … They couldn’t give us the information because they didn’t have the information at their disposal. And yet, a newspaper got their hands on the information very quickly,” Vignola said, referring to the details about the expenses that the National Post obtained by an access to information request to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“How is it that prepared folks, competent folks, would appear before our committee without those figures at hand and yet a newspaper got their hands on them?” Vignola said before telling the committee that the expenses since 2015 should be gone over with a “fine tooth comb” so taxpayers know how their money was spent.
“I just want to avoid this situation occurring again in the future. This is taxpayers’ money, and our taxpayers have trouble making ends meet,” Vignola added.
McCauley said the two witnesses that testified in September “either mistakenly misinformed, misled this committee, or purposely misled this committee.”
In an interview with the National Post, Vignola referred to the witness testimony as “disinformation by omission.”
“We were told [they were] the same meals we get on Air Canada, and that’s certainly not the case,” McCauley said in an interview with National Post. “That’s why I asked if it was filet mignon, and they said, ‘no, it’s regular food!’ Well, beef wellington is not regular food.”
Although redacted in many places, invoices obtained by the National Post revealed many extravagant purchases.
They said the invoices showed it was $7,657.06 to stock the plane for the trip’s first leg, where they picked up Simon in the UK. At this point, the bill included $230 in flower arrangements, $984 worth of Flow-brand boxed water, $165 in lemon and lime slices, and $128 for Perrier water. Passengers had the choice of chicken tikka masala or apple-stuffed pork tenderloin with roasted squash and sautéed brussels sprouts.
Then from the UK to Dubai, which was a seven-hour flight, passengers could choose omelettes or crepes for breakfast and then either chicken scallopini in a creamy mushroom white wine reduction or beef Wellington for lunch.
Leaving Dubai, it cost $16,276.75 to stock the plane with food. Some of the meal options were beef carpaccio, linguine, and roast vegetables. A special request for arugula and wild rice salad was $247 plus a $329 “concierge fee” for shopping to buy the ingredients.
“Breakfast during the 30-minute flight from Dubai to Doha to meet the Emir of Qatar was a light affair for passengers … either yogurt or smoked salmon bagels,” according to National Post, while Simon and her husband had “a china-plated choice of masala omelette with chicken sausages and sautéed potatoes, or scrambled eggs with turkey sausage and hash browns.”
Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Commander Lieutenant-General Eric Kenny told the committee that there are “challenges” with global catering on flights due to “very limited choices as to who we can cater with.” He said some countries have much higher food prices than others.
Kenny said that catering companies do not break down costs for menu items and that the price they get to see is overall costs.
The governor general’s secretary Christine MacIntyre told MPs at the committee meeting on Sept. 22 that she was on the flight with Simon and “the meals given are the types you would get on a commercial flight.”
“The costs were really shocking to all of us,” she said. “We had eggs, we had omelettes.”
Vignola’s motion was approved on Oct. 6, with the witnesses set to testify in November and the complete documents without anything blackout out submitted to the committee by the end of the month.
Peter Wilson contributed to this report.