Doug Ford’s office says the Ontario PC Party is footing the bill for a $25,000 trip on a private jet used to transport the Premier and his team during a three-day northern tour.
The Globe and Mail obtained documents that show top staffers in Mr. Ford’s office arranged a charter aircraft, using private e-mails, for the Premier’s recent visit to northern Ontario. Although Mr. Ford made several public appearances during the tour, and his office issued government news releases, his spokeswoman said the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party is paying for the private plane because the Premier was also scheduled to attend party events.
“There was no cost for the chartered plane charged to taxpayers,” spokeswoman Laryssa Waler said in an e-mail, adding that a PC Party element of the trip necessitated chartering a private aircraft.
Two party insiders speaking to the Globe, who asked not to be named as they were not authorized to speak publicly, say the use of a private plane for government business is highly unusual, especially since Ontario owns two aircraft for that purpose. They also said it is uncommon for a political party to pay for an entire government trip, as opposed to a portion, if travel to a party event is included. However, it is standard practice for political leaders to attend party events in the same location as government announcements.
The Globe asked Mr. Ford’s office for documentation showing that the Ontario PC Party paid for the trip, and when they agreed to do so, and if the Premier will be travelling on private aircraft in the future. Mr. Ford’s office did not provide an invoice or documentation as to when the PC Party paid, and would only say this was the first time Mr. Ford used a chartered plane since the June election.
Mr. Ford, whose entourage on the trip included chief of staff Dean French and Lyndsey Vanstone, who hosts the pro-Ford videos of Ontario News Now, was booked onto a private jet owned by Chartright Air Group between Oct. 23 to 25.
The stops included Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and Thunder Bay, according to a copy of the flight itinerary obtained by The Globe. Although there were public events in Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, there were none scheduled in Sudbury.
Ms. Waler said the Sudbury leg of the trip was exclusively a PC party event – a meet-and-greet with supporters. “The only way to get to Sudbury from Sault Ste. Marie on the Premier’s timeline was through a chartered flight. There were no direct commercial flights between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury available for the times needed,” she said.
“Since the Sudbury leg of the trip was a PC Party event, and out of an abundance of respect to taxpayers, the party is covering the entire flight element for the Northern tour."
However, Ms. Waler said while on the ground in Sault Ste. Marie, the PC event in Sudbury was cancelled and “as a result there never ended up being a Sudbury leg of the tour.” She said there was also a PC Party component in Thunder Bay.
Marcus Mattinson, a spokesman for the Ontario PC Party, said in a statement that the party approved the use of the plane because the Premier was scheduled to attend a party event during the trip.
“Given the Premier’s role as the leader of the PC Party, we felt it appropriate to cover the cost of the plane for the entire trip, as a portion of the trip that required a charter plane was exclusively a party event,” he said.
The three-day charter cost a total of $29,520.20, including taxes, according to e-mails obtained by the Globe – more than four times the price of commercial flights for all passengers travelling on the tour. E-mails show Mr. Ford’s staff using Gmail and other personal accounts, as opposed to their government e-mails, to book the travel through Chartright.
The Premier’s office said private e-mails were used because government e-mails are not to be used for party business.
Ms. Waler said the final cost of the jet was approximately $25,000 including HST. It is not entirely clear why there is a discrepancy between the two figures, although the itinerary obtained by the Globe includes the trip to Sudbury.
The Premier of Ontario normally travels on commercial airlines or a King Air 350, one of two planes the government owns to ferry politicians, the Lieutenant-Governor and forest-management workers around the province.
During his trip to spread the word that Ontario is “open for business," Mr. Ford made an announcement at the Algoma steel company in Sault Ste. Marie and visited Resolute Forest Products in Thunder Bay. He also attended the official opening of Harte Gold’s Sugar Zone gold mine in White River, Ont., although he appears to have travelled there by automobile.
The other passengers on the trip included Simone Daniels, deputy chief of staff for HR administration and tour; Travis Nembhard, director of digital communications; and Farshid Homayoun, who was the OPP officer on the Premier’s detail.
Then-natural resources minister Jeff Yurek, who is now transportation minister, and his chief of staff, Jan O’Driscoll, travelled back to Toronto from Thunder Bay. Mr. Nembhard was not on the last leg of the flight, according to documents.