Gerry Ritz has biggest tab for trips and hospitality
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz stands in the House of Commons during Question Period in Ottawa, Monday, April 23, 2012. (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Tuesday, April 24, 2012 9:12PM EDT
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz racked up the most spending on travel and hospitality in the past two years compared to his cabinet colleagues, according to newly compiled numbers.
The total tab since March 2010 to send Ritz to trade missions in far-flung locations around the globe was $271,489, just above two other top ministers.
In second place was Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who has attended G8 and G20 meetings in global destinations in recent years, and Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
But events in Japan, Indonesia and Turkey over the past two years put Ritz in first-place.
Ritz's office said Tuesday that the spending simply illustrates the minister's commitment to Canada's agriculture sector.
"Canadian agriculture exports hit record levels last year at $44 billion and the agriculture and agri-food industry provides 1 in 8 jobs," said spokeswoman Meagan Murdoch in an email to CTV News.
She added that Ritz's trade missions "are targeted and results-based led in partnership with industry and provinces to open, re-open and expand Canadian markets …"
By comparison, Flaherty's travel and hospitality tab came to $270,119 and MacKay came third with $265,286.
The expense numbers, reported by The Canadian Press, come during a time of increased scrutiny on government expenses, especially following last month's federal budget.
The March budget promised to slash 19,000 federal jobs over the next three years with a rollback on spending this year totalling $5.2 billion.
On Tuesday, cabinet colleague Bev Oda stood in Parliament and apologized Tuesday for expenses incurred on a trip to London, England, for a conference. She switched from her five-star hotel to one preferred by royalty, and hired a car for travelling back to the first hotel -- where the conference was held.
By contrast, Harper's Conservatives have trumpeted their abilities as austere economic managers, and have often stated that departmental spending is lower today than it was when the previous Liberal government was in power.
The Conservatives regularly compile travel expenses and publish them for top personnel. That can include ministers, MPs and other staff.
Meanwhile, the communications offices for both McKay and Flaherty released similar statements that tied spending to important government work.
"Our government treats taxpayers' money with the upmost (sic) respect and we require that travel on government business be done at the lowest possible cost to taxpayers," said Flaherty's spokesperson, Mary Ann Dewey-Plante.
MacKay's spokesman, Jay Paxton, told CP in an email: "This minister has overseen Canadian Forces actions in Afghanistan, Libya and Haiti, demonstrated Canada's leadership in the world at NATO meetings and other major international conferences, and made it a priority to be in the field with the men and women who serve and sacrifice in Canada's name."
The most expensive trip since 2010, however, came from former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon. A 10-day trip to Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Hong Kong cost $35,058 for flights and $1,074 for accommodations.