John Baird vacationed for free at historic Macdonald House in England
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and six of his friends stayed at the official residence of Canada’s High Commissioner to Great Britain for eight days, free of charge, while on vacation in England, CTV News has learned.
CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported late Wednesday that Baird stayed in the historic Macdonald House in central London -- a residence usually used by the prime minister and governor general for official functions when they visit the city.
Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner said Baird’s vacation at the Macdonald House is “disappointing.”
“When you see a high-profile minister of the Crown that takes advantage of the taxpayer in this way…if he was on government business, that’s one thing but certainly being on vacation with a bunch of his buddies, it’s an abuse of the taxpayer,” he said.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar described Baird’s stay at the Macdonald House as freeloading.
“The way it works for the Conservatives is if you’re a buddy of the Conservative Party, it’s open the doors and freeload,” he said.
The building has been the High Commission’s headquarters since the early 1960s, when it was bought from the U.S. government, which had also used it as an embassy.
It sits in a prime location in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Earlier this year the federal government put the house on the market. According to the Globe and Mail, the asking price is approximately $500 million.
The move was part of a larger initiative to cut back spending in the Department of Foreign Affairs.
High Commissioner Gordon Campbell, the former premier of B.C., confirmed that Baird stayed at Campbell’s personal quarters where he pays rent, while he was out of the country.
“I invited him to use the apartment," Campbell told CTV News. "I wasn't going to be there and the staff was not there. He used it as my friends would use it.”
As the foreign affairs minister, Baird is Campbell’s boss.
Baird’s office said Wednesday that taxpayers were not on the hook for the London trip.
“Mr. Baird paid his own way. His own taxis. His own drinks,” the office said in a statement.
Baird’s office said the minister also vacationed at the New York City residence of Canadian Consul General John Prato in 2011
His staff noted that both Campbell and Prato pay a portion of their accommodations and no expenses were incurred by taxpayers during either of Baird’s trips.
Baird is currently in Israel during a four-day trip to the Middle East.
On his last official visit to London in 2012, Baird stayed at the Carleton Club -- where rooms cost approximately $300 per night.
Baird’s office said the minister doesn’t have any future plans to vacation at other official residences.
“But at the end of the day, he stayed with personal friends in their personal apartments, paid his own way and no taxpayer money was used,” Baird’s office said in an email.