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Trudeau’s travel costs to U.S. state dinner are in, Margaret Trudeau expenses excluded

The total for Mr. Trudeau’s White House visit was $12,824-less than the cost of an earlier high-profile foray into the U.S.—Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s 2014 visit to New York for one of his occasional speeches to the United Nations general assembly.

Prime Minister Trudeau's invitation to the White House for a state dinner was notable, as it was the first presidential state dinner honouring Canada since 1997, when Mr. Chrétien and former president Bill Clinton were in office. Photograph courtesy of Adam Scotti

By TIM NAUMETZ

PUBLISHED : Friday, Oct. 28, 2016 3:39 PM

The expenses are in for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s glamorous trip to Washington last March for a state dinner hosted by President Barack Obama, and federal accounts indicate it wasn’t quite the spend fest opposition MPs claimed.

The total travel and expense bill for Mr. Trudeau, his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, and an entourage of 49, including cabinet ministers, PMO staff, cabinet support staff, and other government officials, came to $184,253.

It’s a tidy sum, especially if you’re planning a family vacation, but the total for Mr. Trudeau’s White House visit was $12,824-less than the cost of an earlier high-profile foray into the U.S.—Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s 2014 visit to New York for one of his occasional speeches to the United Nations general assembly.

The bill for Mr. Harper’s September 2014 trip to the UN, which prompted online fun-poking due to a photo of Mr. Harper speaking to a near-vacant assembly room, came to $197,077, according to the 2015 edition of the public accounts. Huffington Post carried a photo of the near-empty assembly scene, but also included photos of previous Canadian PMs who attracted small numbers for general assembly speeches, including Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.

  

Conservative MPs took umbrage at the size of Mr. Trudeau’s entourage for the Washington trip, notable for being the first presidential state dinner honouring Canada since 1997, when Mr. Chrétien and former president Bill Clinton were in office.

Although Mr. Trudeau’s mother, Margaret Trudeau, was among the high-profile guests, her name does not appear on the manifest that appears in the public accounts.

Among the government officials reported on the trip were Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent, Que.); Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.); Environment Minister Catherine McKenna (Ottawa South, Ont.); Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.); and then-fisheries minister, Hunter Tootoo (Nunavut).

Ms. Gregoire-Trudeau’s parents, Jean Grégoire and Estelle Blais, also attended but their names are not on the public accounts manifest. Under the public accounts system, the expenditure document would include the names of all of guests and travellers whose expenses were paid for by the government.

  

The Conservative opposition submitted a written question in the Commons, under the name of Alberta Conservative MP Blaine Calkins, in an attempt to obtain figures for the cost of the March 9 to March 11 trip, and were incredulous when Global Affairs responded with an initial total of $37,150. The departmental reply to the March 17 question cautioned that not all invoices and expense claims had been submitted.

“Will the Liberals finally come clean and tell taxpayers how much it cost for their five-star vacation,” Mr. Calkins (Red Deer-Lacombe, Alta.) asked in question period on May 12, as he challenged the accuracy of the department figures, which nearly matched a separate line found in the public accounts this week for travel only.

Then-government house leader Dominic LeBlanc (Beauséjour, N.B.) ignored the main point of Mr. Calkins’ question, and emphasized the length of time that had passed since the previous White House state dinner attended by a Canadian prime minister, and cited gains from bilateral talks between Mr. Trudeau and President Obama.

When asked by The Hill Times, Mr. Calkins declined to comment on the public accounts report and the comparison with Mr. Harper’s trip to New York, saying he had not gone through the documents.

  

However, Conservative MP Larry Maguire (Brandon-Souris, Man.), when informed of the costs of Mr. Harper’s visit to New York in comparison with the state dinner expenses, said the Conservative’s objections at the time were based on the guest list.

“There was a certain amount of discussion around who went, and that was part of the process: using taxpayer dollars for family and things like that, as opposed to a delegation going to a general assembly on international business,” said Mr. Maguire.