Bev Oda’s decision to reimburse taxpayers for additional expenses she incurred by switching from one posh London hotel to an even posher one does little to mollify the outrage of the opposition.
The International Co-operation Minister, who has previously run into trouble as a result of her champagne tastes, was supposed to stay at the Grange St. Paul's Hotel where she was attending a conference on the immunization of children in poor countries. But she switched to the Savoy – a hotel favoured by royalty that cost more than twice as much as the Grange.
Eight hours after the expenses of the London trip were revealed by The Canadian Press, Ms. Oda’s office announced she had reimbursed the fee difference between the two hotels, as well as the cancellation fee at the first one. She also paid back the cost of a $16 glass of orange juice.
But NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair told reporters it is clear the reimbursement was made under duress.
“The money for the hotel was only paid back when it was about to become public information. So there doesn’t seem to have been any sincerity in the reparation effort,” he told reporters. “It seems to be more damage control than an honest application of the rules.”
Charlie Angus, the NDP ethics critic, raised the issue during Question Period in the House of Commons. “Is someone over there not embarrassed by her behaviour?” he asked of the Conservative caucus. “Will someone stand up and apologize to the hard-working Canadian taxpayers? She is living like a queen off their backs.”
But Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan said the matter was settled. “Our government believes very much that all ministers must respect taxpayer dollars,” he said. “The minister, of course, has repaid the costs in question.”
Shortly after she was first appointed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet six years ago, Ms. Oda was castigated by the opposition for rejecting a minivan that had been provided to ferry her to the Juno Awards and instead opted for a limousine ride.
Ralph Goodale, the deputy Liberal leader, said the fact the money for the pricier London hotel had been repaid was not good enough. “Especially is Ms. Oda’s case,” Mr. Goodale said, “because this is now the third or fourth incident of this kind of excess that indicates a minister far more interested in herself than interested in her clientele and her clientele include the poorest of the poor in the world.”
When asked by reporters earlier Monday what he wanted Ms. Oda to do now, NDP House Leader replied: “I want her to stop staying at five-star-plus hotels. I want her to start being a minister who actually believes in her file that says the world’s poor need our attention, not some high-flying aristocracy.”
The bill for three nights at the Savoy last June set had originally set taxpayers back $1,995, or $665 a night. And, until the reimbursement, the government was on the hook for a night at the hotel she rejected, costing an additional $287.
While in London, Ms. Oda had a luxury car and driver to shuttle her between conference site, her new hotel and beyond at an average cost of nearly $1,000 a day. There was no indication that the minister reimbursed the cost of that transportation.
“If she had stayed at the hotel, the five-star hotel” Liberal House Leader Marc Garneau said, “there wouldn’t have been any limousine costs.”