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Environment Minister Jim Prentice found money this week for an elaborate press conference at the Chateau Laurier hotel, even though the federal budget promised cabinet ministers would be tightening their belts in these recessionary times.

The government's budget promised "a number of actions to limit discretionary spending," including scaling back on meeting costs and scrapping business-class travel for ministers and their staff on flights of less than two hours.

But Mr. Prentice raised eyebrows this week with his decision to announce new environmental legislation at a hotel down the street from Parliament Hill.

At least two rooms were booked at the Chateau Laurier for the event, including one where officials from the department provided an advance briefing for reporters. Three uniformed Environment Canada enforcement officers were brought in to stand next to the minister throughout his press conference.

In addition to the rental costs, having an event off the Hill also involves hiring a team of sound technicians.

The minister could have avoided these expenses by using either of the two press conference rooms on Parliament Hill or any of the many committee rooms.

The department was asked Wednesday to provide reporters with the cost of hosting the event, but so far, nothing has been released. Mr. Prentice, when asked, defended the presser.

"Well, these gentlemen are here in part to respond to your questions and I hope you'll take advantage of that opportunity. We do announcements across the country in many different places," he said. "The choice was made to have this announcement done here in Ottawa and to do [it]at this location properly set up for that purpose."

Few major newspapers ran the story, let alone the picture. However the photo of Mr. Prentice and his officers is on the front page of Environment Canada's website.

NDP MP Linda Duncan, who once worked as chief of enforcement at Environment Canada, said the money could have been better spent, perhaps on a new truck for the enforcement officers.

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