The Prime Minister’s Office is defending a decision to give two European delegates a free flight home last week at an estimated cost of more than $300,000.

According to a media report, Prime Minister Stephen Harper authorized a free flight to Brussels on a Canadian Forces Airbus for a visiting European Union delegation, after adding a Toronto reception to their schedule.

Because the reception was reportedly added on short notice, the European delegates could not make their planned commercial flight from Ottawa to Brussels.

The delegation included European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who signed a Canada-EU free-trade agreement in Ottawa on Friday.

Harper’s director of communications, Jason MacDonald, told The Canadian Press Monday that the Airbus was offered to the delegation as a courtesy to ensure "that no elements" of the Canada-EU summit were cut short.

NDP’s ethics critic Charlie Angus raised the issue during question period on Monday, and asked Trade Minister Ed Fast how much the government spent on the flight and security “for this faux second signing of this trade deal.”

Fast didn’t answer the question directly.

“Why would the opposition want us to cancel such a critical element of this event, the Canada-EU summit?” Fast said in response. He then accused the NDP of being “anti-trade.”

Outside the House of Commons, Angus told reporters that the government’s decision to fly the European delegates home on the Airbus was “not responsible.”

“The fact that we’re spending well over $300,000 so that the prime minister can do photo ops with these European leaders, I just think that that’s not being accountable to Canadians,” he said.

Jeff Bowes, of the Canadian Taxpayer Federation, said the “$300,000 courtesy is far too much.”

Bowes told CTV’s Power Play that the free trade deal with the European Union is indeed important for Canada, but the summit schedule should have been planned better so that the EU leaders could make their own way home.

Bowes noted that the Conservative government has reduced the ministerial use of Challenger jets by 75 per cent, but should have been more sensitive to the issue of air travel on the taxpayers’ dime.  

With files from The Canadian Press