Trudeau India trip included $17K for celebrity chef, $3.6K for hockey jerseys
Published Wednesday, June 20, 2018 10:25AM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, June 20, 2018 6:34PM EDT
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s February trip to India included payments of more than $17,000 for a Vancouver-based celebrity chef and nearly $3,600 for Team Canada hockey jerseys, according to documents.
The prime minister headed to India in mid-February for a nine-day state visit with a delegation of ministers, parliamentarians and other dignitaries and officials.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the visit “was focused on strengthening the historic ties between our two countries, and promoting economic opportunities that will create good jobs for Canadians.”
Documents tabled in Parliament this week at the request of the Conservatives detail all government expenditures over $1,000 associated with the trip, excluding all invoices yet to be received.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer accused Trudeau during Wednesday’s question period of a “disastrous trip” that proved he “cannot manage taxpayers’ money responsibly.”
Conservative MP Candace Bergen also slammed the prime minister, saying he is “using his job to pay for his celebrity lifestyle.”
“The prime minister thinks that he’s entitled to his entitlements. He spares no expense when he wants to be pampered and showered with luxury,” Bergen said.
Trudeau defended the trip by citing over $1 billion in two-way investments and at least 5,800 new jobs created in connection with the diplomatic visit.
“We were pleased to do a lot of good work on that nine-day trip for less than it cost Stephen Harper and the Conservatives to do a six-day trip just a few years before,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau also shot back by accusing the Tories of playing “petty politics” and making personal attacks against him on a day “when plenty of big things are happening around the world.”
“We stay focused on the things that matter to Canadians on growing the economy in ways that are far greater than the Conservatives were able to do,” Trudeau said.
One of the expenditures detailed in the documents was for $17,044.21 to bring Vancouver-based celebrity chef Vikram Vij to help prepare a pair of Indian-inspired meals at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi. Vij, an Indo-Canadian restaurateur and vocal Liberal supporter, had his transportation, accommodation, per diems and incidentals covered by the federal government. That figure does not include the cost of the meals he helped prepare.
In a statement emailed to CTVNews.ca, Vij said he joined the trip as “an unofficial culinary ambassador” to create menus that “showcase Canadian ingredients and produce” and to promote Canadian farmers, wines, tourism, and food safety standards to “Indian dignitaries and political decision-makers.”
“Earlier this year, I was honoured to be approached by the Government of Canada to accompany the Prime Minister on a trip to my homeland of India,” Vij, who publicly supported Trudeau in advance of the 2015 federal election, said. “While my expenses such as flights and accommodation and a per diem were taken care of, I was not paid to be a part of this trip.”
Global Affairs Canada has said that “it is accepted practice for Canadian missions to invite chefs from Canada to showcase Canadian food products and cuisine” and that Vij’s “Vancouver restaurants are world-renowned for melding Canadian ingredients and the traditions of Indian cuisine.”
Conservative MP and Foreign Affairs critic Erin O’Toole, however, said that Vij’s participation had more to do with the Liberals’ domestic agenda than culinary ambassadorship.
“I’m quite sure if you went to India, you’d be able to find some very good cooks,” O’Toole said. “The celebrity Indo-Canadian chef was for domestic political purposes so that they could entertain their own MPs (and) certain stakeholders that they were taking on the trip.”
The India trip also included $3,581.84 paid to Wick Hockey, an organization run by veteran Canadian women’s hockey gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser. Wick Hockey, an outreach organization that promotes Canada’s favourite pastime in countries like India and China, helped organize a ball hockey game with India’s national women’s ice hockey team at the Canadian High Commission on Feb. 24. According to a spokesperson from Wick Hockey, the $3,581.84 covered the cost of 21 discounted Team Canada women’s hockey jerseys, which were paid for by the PMO and given to the Indian athletes.
“There’s going to be an element of branding Canada in all of our major diplomatic outreach,” O’Toole commented. “But I think most of what went on with this trip was about branding the Liberal party in Canada, not branding Canada in the hearts of business leaders, investors and legislators in India.”
Although the documents do not tabulate the total cost of the trip, they do show that more than $1 million was spent, including tens of thousands of dollars on commercial airfare and more than $330,000 on accommodation.
“It is worth noting that the total estimated cost of this 9-day trip is less than, or in line with, previous governments,” the PMO stated.
O’Toole, however, said that the trip’s price was far from worth it.
“It was receptions, it was cultural visits, it was a whole range of things,” O’Toole said of the India visit, which has been frequently criticized by the Conservatives, particularly over the so-called Atwal affair. “There was less than a full day of actually substantive meetings and engagement for the Prime Minister… Otherwise the rest of it was literally a Liberal party junket.”
The PMO denies such claims, stating that the trip led to “$1 billion in new two-way investment between our two countries, which will create 5,800 good, middle class jobs in Canada.”
Action-oriented meeting with the Canadian delegation, discussing our plans to strengthen Canada's relationship with #India. Thank you to High Commissioner @NadirYPatel for your leadership and Chef Vikram Vij for the exquisite dinner! #TrudeauInIndia #Trade #Jobs pic.twitter.com/DPcYYzOZIp— Kamal Khera (@KamalKheraLib) February 19, 2018
Politics aside, today a gathering to show the love of our country, the beautiful game and belief sport can break down barriers and change lives. A celebration of @icehockeyindia and the brave women who play the game in the most remote region of the world Thank you all! #india2yyc pic.twitter.com/wT0tV2Ox6g— Hayley Wickenheiser (@wick_22) February 24, 2018