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NDP, Tories heap scorn on Montreal port chief's $10,000 'tourist' snapshots

Old Port of Montreal president Claude Benoit submitted a 115-page annotated photo album as her justification for a trip to Australia and New Zealand that cost taxpayers $10,000.

The NDP and the Conservative Party are blasting a report compiled by the president of the Old Port of Montreal after her controversial taxpayer-funded trip to Australia and New Zealand.

"It's absurd that $10,000 in taxpayer dollars were spent this way," NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice said, referring to the document first posted on The Globe and Mail website Monday evening. "It's like a bunch of pictures taken by a tourist."

Old Port president Claude Benoit has vigorously defended her trip to cities including Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney, telling a parliamentary committee she gathered information and inspiration for her own agency's activities and facilities along the St. Lawrence. The former chairman of the board of the Old Port had approved the payment of a portion of the trip to compensate Ms. Benoit for 12 working days during the Oceanic getaway over the holiday period in 2008 and 2009.

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But Mr. Boulerice lamented the fact she did not engage in any official meetings as she alternated between working days and her own private holidays, including a trip on a cruise ship.

"It's not very serious for someone who is paid by public funds to go on a business trip during which she had no official meetings, and for which her report is basically pictures that she took herself," he said.

During Question Period, the Harper government announced it has placed the Old Port of Montreal under the tutelage of an outside expert.

The minister responsible for the federal agency, Rona Ambrose, said the supervision will go on as the Auditor-General undertakes its own examination of the financial situation at the Port.

"At my request, the Old Port has agreed to take on a third party independent company to sit in at the Old Port to review and sign off on all expenditures going forward," Ms. Ambrose said.

Earlier, the NDP denounced Ms. Benoit's work by releasing its own report at the ethics committee of the House: a 23-page compilation of pictures from New Zealand and Australia, using images culled on the Internet at no cost.

Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, who urged Ms. Benoit on May 10 to "pay for your own vacations," said he will be tabling a motion calling for a reimbursement to taxpayers.

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The NDP is onside with the Conservatives, having sent a similar request to the current chair of the federal agency's board, Gerry Weiner.

"We think it would fair that your Board asks for a reimbursement of funds that were spent on what was obviously a vacation," the NDP said.

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