Ontario Tourism Minister Cam Jackson resigned last night after revelations that he charged almost $104,000 in expenses for hotel stays and travel, as well as restaurant and bar bills over 28 months.
Barry Wilson, a spokesman for the premier's office, confirmed last night that Premier Ernie Eves had accepted Mr. Jackson's resignation.
The development came after a day in which Mr. Eves made it clear that Mr. Jackson's political future was in doubt.
Mr. Jackson has repaid $7,628, explaining that these expenses were "inadvertently" billed to taxpayers, although they fell afoul of government regulations covering the spending of cabinet ministers. His payments accounted for 48 of more than 720 separate bills.
Mr. Eves told the Ontario Legislature earlier that he was not finished dealing with Mr. Jackson.
"I haven't prejudged the expenses of the honourable member, but I will certainly look into it, and I will make sure that the right thing is done."
Advisers to Mr. Eves said he has no tolerance for those who appear to abuse the public trust. The Premier's office made no attempt to defend Mr. Jackson, who was seen as wounding a government that prides itself on fiscal and moral probity.
And Mr. Jackson acknowledged yesterday, hours before his resignation, that he had been left twisting in the wind by Mr. Eves. "I only received the job at the pleasure of the Premier," he said.
The bills include the tabs for 46 visits to expensive Toronto steakhouses, where Mr. Jackson and his guests ran up bills totalling $8,574.36.
His executive assistant, Carolyn Chaplin, ran up $22,323 of the expenses.
Mr. Jackson said that some of the bills, including those for in-room movies in hotels, relate to travels with his wife and three daughters.
"Sometimes when I travel with my children or my family, they watch movies. . . . The family enjoys the odd movie when they travel with their father."
He added that taxpayers should not have paid for these movies. "They should have been caught."
And he acknowledged that he may not have repaid other expenses outside the guidelines. "If there's more, we'll look at those, as well."
Mr. Jackson, first elected in Burlington in 1985, has had a mixed record as a cabinet minister since 1995. Although he was an experienced MPP, he was not made a minister at first, and has never been entrusted with a major portfolio.
Other ministers did not try to hide their embarrassment over the revelations by Liberal deputy leader Sandra Pupatello, who obtained Mr. Jackson's spending records through an access-to-information request.
"The Premier will be taking a look at it, and I have the utmost confidence that he will do the right thing," said Attorney-General David Young, a highly respected confidant of the Premier.
David Tsubouchi, the Minister of Culture and Chairman of the Management Board of Cabinet, is another minister whose advice is valued by Mr. Eves. He put the blame for the spending misadventures squarely on Mr. Jackson. "Each individual minister is responsible for supervising their own expenditures."
Mr. Tsubouchi said he is preparing changes in the guidelines that govern spending by ministers. This comes after earlier revelations of inappropriate spending by four other ministers. Environment Minister Chris Stockwell was forced to repay about $3,000 for food and liquor that he and his staff inappropriately billed to their government accounts.
Throughout the government, and even in the Premier's office, old expense accounts are being vetted, on Mr. Eves's orders, for examples of questionable spending. Even senior personnel have been asked to make repayments of bills that might not wash with the public.
Said Mr. Jackson of the high restaurant bills, "Sometimes there's eight or nine stakeholders or groups that are lobbying the government and wanting to meet with the government from time to time." He spent $14,396 on 58 stays in Toronto hotels, including the Sutton Place, the Delta Chelsea, the Royal York and the Park Hyatt, although his home in Burlington is a 45-minute drive from Queen's Park.
TALLYING THE TAB
CAM JACKSON'S STEAKHOUSE VISITS
Morton's of Chicago, 15 visits for $2,925.59 in total expenses. A Porterhouse steak costs $46.95.
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, 14 visits for $2,811.39 in total expenses. A New York strip steak costs $45.95.
Carmen's Dining Club, 10 visits for $1,826.68 in total expenses. A New York sirloin costs $44.
The Keg Steakhouse, seven visits for $1,010.70 in total expenses. A New York steak costs $23.95.
Total visits: 46
Total expenses: $8,574.36