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Dinner for Mexican president cost $134,000; well worth it, say MPs

By Peter Mazereeuw      

The cost included more than $7,000 for flowers. Conservative MP Lukiwski calls out the PMO for inviting only Liberal politicians to the dinner this summer.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, second from right, poses with Senate Speaker George Furey, far right, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, second from left, and House Speaker Geoff Regan during his visit to Canada in June. Mr. Trudeau hosted a dinner for the Mexican leader in Toronto on June 27, and Governor General David Johnston hosted a state dinner the next night at his residence in Ottawa. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia
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A $134,000 dinner held for the visiting Mexican president, Liberal politicians, and businesspeople this summer was worth every penny, say MPs and a former Canadian diplomat.

The June 27 dinner was hosted at Toronto’s Casa Loma, a castle-like building in the city’s core, for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who visited Canada on the eve of the North American Leaders’ Summit in Ottawa, which involved the two leaders and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Mr. Trudeau hosted the Toronto dinner, while Governor General David Johnston hosted a state dinner the next evening at his residence, Rideau Hall, in Ottawa.

Hosting the Toronto dinner cost the government $134,040 according to documents tabled in the House of Commons and released by Global Affairs Canada and the Privy Council Office. That included $7,390 on flowers, $12,617 on drinks, and $40,568 on food for the 253 people who attended, as well as transportation and expenses for officials involved in putting on the event, lighting, translation, entertainment, security, and more. The total came to an average of $530 per guest.

That’s money well spent, say Liberal and Conservative MPs, and a former Canadian diplomat who once organized incoming state visits.

“This was a significant state visit from one of our most important partners economically, socially, and culturally. So it doesn’t surprise me that there was a budget for that kind of thing,” said Liberal MP Will Amos (Pontiac, Que.), who co-chairs the Canada-Mexico parliamentary friendship group along with Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz (Davenport, Ont.).

The Toronto dinner included a guest list heavy with businesspeople with ties to Mexico and Canada. A large segment of Canada’s Mexican-Canadian community resides in the Toronto area, and the dinner allowed for a “cross-pollination” between the business and political crowds, said Mr. Amos, who attended both of the dinners.

“It seems to me self-evident that it is in the public interest for these two events to be held,” he said.

Conservative MP Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.), his party’s foreign affairs critic, said the budget for the evening was “a lot of money,” but part of the cost of diplomacy.

“I think between close friends, between allies, it’s not that money is no object, but there are some pretty basic costs involved in state hospitality,” he said.

“Perhaps you don’t do it the same for every visiting head of state, but you certainly do with your best friends,” he said.     

Mr. Kent estimated that Mexico spent a similar figure hosting a state dinner he attended in September, 2010 as a minister of state for foreign affairs, along with former governor general Michaëlle Jean.

“It was a pretty lavish and hospitable event,” he said, describing a “glittering” table setting and a serenading mariachi band.

The budget for the event at Casa Loma, a tourist hotspot in Toronto, was made public in response to a question tabled by Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski (Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan, Sask.).

Mr. Lukiwski criticized the PMO for turning the Toronto dinner into what he called a partisan event, noting that only Liberal politicians were invited.

Though only 22 MPs attended, the prime minister’s office had invited a total of 45 Liberal MPs, including cabinet ministers, as well as another five Liberal MPPs for Ontario, and no politicians from other parties, according to the document made public by Global Affairs Canada.

PMO spokesperson Andrée-Lyne Hallé responded to Mr. Lukiwski’s comments in an emailed statement, saying that Toronto MPs were invited to the dinner given that it was hosted in that city.

The Liberals swept the Toronto ridings in last year’s election.

Other attendees of the Toronto event included business executives from Canada and Mexico, diplomats, eight Canadian ministers, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Toronto Mayor John Tory, top PMO staffers Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, academics, artists, and others.

The dinner menu, according to the CBC, included Montreal smoked meat and Prince Edward Island beef among the appetizers, British Columbia prawns and Nova Scotia scallops in the entrees, and BeaverTails among the desserts.

Dining room diplomacy

Mr. Amos said both the dinners in Toronto and Ottawa were “packed” with people. Both leaders addressed the room at the Toronto event, speaking about the importance of the Canada-Mexico relationship, and the entertainment—$7,263 for the evening—was mostly off to the side, without any “grand production.”

State dinners are an important ceremony for visiting dignitaries, a way of “setting the table for everything else that you want to do” with the visiting country, said Gar Pardy, a retired Canadian diplomat who sat in on state dinners as an ambassador, and also helped to organize them as Canada’s director for Southeast and Pacific Asia at Global Affairs in the late 1980s.

peter@hilltimes.com

@PJMazereeuw

A night at Casa Loma

Source: Global Affairs Canada and the PCO

GAC
Expense Amounts Notes
Audio visual $19,842.75 Staging, lights, sound system, and translation booths
Beverages $12,616.56 Alcoholic and non-alcoholic
GAC Travel $8,451.11 Air fare, per diems, advance, and official visits
Event co-ordination $200.00
Flowers $7,390.00
Food $40,568.40 All food and service charges
Vehicle rentals $2,657.91 ground transportation
Room rentals $28,450.00 Inc. removal of furniture and fixtures
Parking $120.00
Security $2,000.00 Corp of Commissionaire
Entertainment $7,262.74
GAC sub-total $129,559.47
PCO
Air fare $3,436.50
Other transportation $415.55
Accomodation $206.12
Meals and incidentals $422.51
PCO sub-total $4,480.68
Total $134,040.15

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