International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda has agreed to repay almost $3,000 she charged taxpayers for “ad hoc requests” of a luxury car and driver while staying at a posh hotel in London.
The beleaguered Conservative minister already coughed up $1,353.81 in extra hotel charges this week after The Canadian Press reported she upgraded to the five-star-plus Savoy Hotel for unknown reasons during a conference last June.
The conference on international immunizations was at another five-star hotel where Ms. Oda cancelled her cheaper room in favour of the tonier Savoy, which was a 25-minute walk away.
A terse message from Ms. Oda's office said that all incremental costs that should not have been expensed – including the car service – have been repaid.
“The repayment covered the costs associated with changing hotels: the difference in cost between the two hotels, the cancellation fee, the car service in London, and all incremental costs that should not have been charged to taxpayers,” spokesman Justin Broekema said in an e-mail that did not provide a dollar figure.
Ms. Oda charged $2,850 three days of a luxury car service, including 15 hours on June 13, 2011. Oda's itinerary shows she was supposed to be at the conference site – the Grange St. Paul's Hotel – from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. that day, after which she had private time.
A subsequent e-mail from officials at Foreign Affairs to their Canadian International Development Agency counterparts, dated August 11, 2011, states “the mission will be unable to action any request for vehicles for the minister until the old invoice is paid.”
CIDA was requesting a car for another official, and the Foreign Affairs official recommended $1,000 be budgeted for the day.
“I wouldn't think it would be anywhere close to that, but judging from the last [Oda]visit, we need to be flexible to address ad hoc requests from the delegation,” the email said.
Ms. Oda's expensive tastes, which included a $16 glass of orange juice at the Savoy, have raised eyebrows at a time when the Harper government is cutting overseas development funding by hundreds of millions of dollars.
The minister issued an abject apology in the House of Commons this week, but critics – including Conservative-friendly taxpayer watchdogs – said she should be turfed from the cabinet as an example.
Opposition critics continued to attack Ms. Oda's spending in the Commons on Thursday but Peter Van Loan, the Government House leader, responded that she had apologized and said critics should give thanks that she's repaid the excessive spending.
“They're making this up on the fly,” NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said of the Conservative government. “They're making it up because they got caught.”
With a report from Jennifer Ditchburn