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Canadian MPs spent $14.6M on travel in first half of 2023

Canadian Members of Parliament spent more than $14.6 million on travel in the first half of 2023, an approximately 10 per cent increase over the previous six months, according to a CTV News analysis of expense reports.

It's an uptick both experts and MPs say can be explained by the increase in post-COVID-19 travel and higher costs to do so, as well as politicians' desire to balance time in Ottawa with time in their ridings.  

Working out to about $80,000 per day, taxpayer money was used for travel costs including commercial airfare, ground transportation, accommodation and meals for MPs, their immediate families and staff. On average, Canada's 338 MPs spent more than $43,000 each on work and constituency-related travel between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2023, or more than $7,200 each per month.

The expense reports also show that MPs are on the move again following pandemic-related travel restrictions that stretched from March 16, 2020 to Oct. 1, 2022. Travel spending in the latest April 2022 to March 2023 fiscal year totalled $27 million, exceeding spending in the last pre-pandemic fiscal year by nine per cent. Travel in the last six months of 2022 totalled $13.4 million.

"I'm not surprised that it's up," said Conservative strategist Jason Lietaer on CTV News Channel. "I suspect it will probably go even higher."

"There's always a little bit of complaining about these kinds of costs. … You've got to travel to do this job," he said. "MPs should be in Ottawa. … And the truth is, it's a very tough job. And I don't begrudge them [for] being able to get where they need to go and get home to their families as well … even if it's just for a couple of days or a couple of hours here or there, I think it's worth it."

Political analyst Lori Turnbull expressed a similar view.

"There's nothing particularly controversial here, this is just what it costs for MPs to do business," she said, noting MPs do have travel budgets and limits on what they can spend. 

The publicly available data does not include the cost of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and cabinet members' official travel aboard Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft and government vehicles, which would push their totals much higher. For security reasons, Canadian prime ministers are not authorized to take commercial flights. According to a response to a recent order paper question, between May 4 and Sept. 21 of this year, fuel and catering costs for the prime minister and his staff's air travel exceeded $1.5 million.

Canada's two main opposition leaders had the largest travel bills, with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre spending $247,819.15 and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh expensing $177,500.18 in the first six months of 2023.

"The leaders are going to absolutely want to get around to see as many people as possible to try to build their case for why they should people should elect them and not the Liberals," Turnbull said. "And so no surprise that we're seeing a lot of travel on the part of the opposition leaders." 

Excluding party leaders, just eight MPs spent over double the national average in the same period, including those who represent remote and northern locations as well as lawmakers from or near Edmonton, Vancouver and Regina.

Aside from party leaders, only three MPs spent roughly triple the national average: Bloc Québécois MP Marilène Gill in northern Quebec at $171,534.35, NDP MP Niki Ashton in northern Manitoba at $131,527.53, and Conservative MP and deputy party leader Tim Uppal in Edmonton at $130,012.27. Both Gill and Ashton represent remote communities that require flights on smaller airlines to reach by air. Uppal's office in Edmonton is about a 20 minute drive from the city's airport.

By party, the Conservatives also led travel spending at over $6 million, slightly ahead of the Liberals' $5.6 million. The NDP spent more than $1.5 million, but had the highest per-member travel costs of any party at nearly $60,000, which is $16,000 above the national average. The Conservatives were also above the national average at $49,572.85 of travel spending per lawmaker.

The top-spending Liberals were Ron McKinnon at $95,987.51 and Wilson Miao at $91,769.07. They represent Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam and Richmond Centre, which are both near Vancouver. Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet's travel receipts totalled $62,900.01.

Many of the biggest travel spenders are understandably those with more prominent roles, as well MPs from northern, remote and western ridings, which typically are more expensive to access from Ottawa.

There are however large discrepancies in what MPs from the same city spend.

In Edmonton, for example, travel expenses in the first six months of 2023 range from a high of $130,012.27 for Uppal to a low of $36,042.97 for fellow Conservative MP Ziad Aboultaif. Uppal's travel bill is also more than $41,000 larger than the city's second highest spender, Liberal MP and Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault, whose travel expenses totalled $88,964.08.

"MP Uppal's role as Deputy Leader of Canada's Conservatives requires him to attend meetings and events in other cities," Uppal's office said in a statement to "The multi-city travel and unpredictable schedule changes add to the cost of travel."

CTV News asked Uppal about his expenses on Parliament Hill on Monday, but he walked by without comment.

There are typically 338 MPs in Canada, although one seat in parliament is currently vacant. Most MPs travel home on weekends, and during constituency weeks. But given MPs' busy schedules both in Ottawa and in their ridings, there's likely need to make last-minute travel arrangements at times, and short-notice reservations could also significantly bump up the price of flights. This may help explain why the prices of some MP flights are in the thousands of dollars for routes that cost significantly less with advance booking.

"When it comes to MP travel costs, it's a big country. And lots of MPs like me are from a long ways away and our travel bills are high. And that's a necessary part of equalizing democracy," said NDP MP Randall Garrison, who represents Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, B.C. "I believe that I need to be here representing my constituents as much as possible."

According to a parliamentary manual, Canadian MPs are only permitted to fly business class on flights longer than two hours if they purchase tickets in bulk with a flight pass or book directly through Members' Travel Services, which acts as an in-house travel agency. MPs and even cabinet ministers must fly economy on all flights under two hours. With bookings made to accommodate MPs' busy schedules, late and last-minute reservations can also significantly bump up the price of flights. First-class travel is prohibited.

MPs are allowed to expense flights for themselves, regular employees, dependents and one designated traveller, who is often a spouse or partner. MP travel costs can also include up to $38,190 this year for a secondary residence, which is usually in Ottawa. Since the onset of the pandemic, MPs still have the option to participate in the House of Commons virtually.

Livio Di Matteo, an economist and professor at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., says increases in travel spending are likely the result of a post-pandemic rebound as MPs increasingly come back to work in-person.

"A small compact urban riding in the (Greater Toronto Area) or Montreal should all other things given have lower travel costs than a large one spanning a vast geographic area on the other side of the country," Di Matteo told CTV News. "An MP with a cabinet position and on a lot of committees may also have more travel expenses than one less active."

Increasing the amount of hybrid participation is something Sydney-Victoria, N.S. MP Jaime Battiste said is worth a conversation, but more so out of concerns for cutting carbon emissions and spending more time with loved ones than the cost of coming to the nation's capital.

"I think that if there's an opportunity from this story to look at how much time we spend in Ottawa in hotels as opposed to being back in our home in our own beds, I'd appreciate that conversation," he said.

With files from CTV News' Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello and CTV National News Producer Jordan Gowling 



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