OTTAWA -- The federal environment department paid a French photojournalist $6,662 to take pictures of its minister, Catherine McKenna, and her staff during the COP21 conference on climate change in Paris last year.

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) says the sole-source contract for photos issued to Sébastien Leban saved the government travel costs of sending a photographer from Canada to document the event.

Nearly all the photos from COP21 published by the department feature McKenna herself.

She appears in almost every shot from the conference posted on her ministerial and departmental Twitter accounts, and in each of the 23 pictures currently on ECCC’s Flickr photo-sharing account.

McKenna's office initially reported the cost as $6,662, then told CTV News the amount was actually reported in Euros, so was worth $10,681. On Tuesday, McKenna said the cost had been reported correctly the first time and the $6,662 figure was the actual cost.

“Photos, like press releases, social media and other communications tools, are a way to communicate to Canadians the work the government is doing on their behalf,” McKenna’s spokesperson, Caitlyn Workman, said in an email.

Because McKenna led the Canadian delegation to the conference in November and December, her ministerial Twitter account “would of course include pictures of the work the Minister was undertaking,” she added.

But the Canadian Taxpayers Federation questioned whether the contract with the photographer was a good use of government money.

“Should taxpayers really be on the hook for what are essentially vanity photos for ministers? I don’t think there’s a compelling argument there,” said CTF federal director Aaron Wudrick.

Wudrick said photos of ministers tend to promote the politician but not necessarily the policy and therefore shouldn’t be funded by government.

Quebec Conservative MP Gérard Deltell said there appears to be a trend within the Liberal government toward cavalier spending, likening the photos to recent reports that Health Minister Jane Philpott had spent thousands of dollars on limousine rides and a membership for airport executive lounges.

“When you spend thousands of dollars on limousines, on the Air Canada lodge, or on pictures in Paris, well, you have to be careful of taxpayer money,” he said.

Government records suggest ECCC was prepared to spend even more on photos if necessary. The value of the contract with Leban is listed on its website at over $19,900 and classified as “management consulting.”

The department said that figure represented the maximum value for the contract, not the amount paid.

Like prime ministers before him, Justin Trudeau has a dedicated staff photographer who travels with him to shoot both public and private events.

But other cabinet ministers must rely on their aides or hire photographers if they want the same kind of record of their public events.