Official travel or campaign rally? It’s complicated

Piggybacking political trips and official business: a favourite political twofer

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces a government initiative to help assist small and medium-sized businesses to open new markets abroad, in Mississauga, Ont. on Wednesday, March 18 2015. (Chris Young/CP)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces a government initiative to help assist small and medium-sized businesses to open new markets abroad, in Mississauga, Ont. on Wednesday, March 18 2015. (Chris Young/CP)

OTTAWA — Announcement, political rally, photo-op, political rally, announcement, repeat as needed.

The prime minister’s travel agenda these days is a neat package of taxpayer-paid photo opportunities paired with Conservative rallies — a popular twofer in Canadian politics.

Tom Mulcair, leader of the official Opposition also travels across the country using his House of Commons budget.

Folks around Ottawa will say it’s been ever thus, piggybacking a political event onto one covered by the public purse. Which event was planned first is a chicken-and-the-egg type question that is never quite spelled out.

But these days the matter of what constitutes legitimate official travel for parliamentarians is facing scrutiny in an Ottawa courtroom.

Suspended Sen. Mike Duffy faces several fraud and breach of trust charges related to trips he took that involved political activities.

Maclean’s interactive: Mike Duffy from coast to coast to coast 

Among his defences is that he did attend public events during those trips to deliver speeches for the local MP — meeting local mayors or a human rights activist, for example.

He also argues that partisan activities are a part of a senator’s core functions.

Harper’s travel last week included a mix of photo opportunities and political get-togethers. Some of his public events are not open to the media.

He participated in a roundtable Wednesday night with business leaders in Windsor, Ont., followed by a reception with the newly nominated local Conservative candidate and other supporters. Thursday morning there was a Windsor event highlighting the yet-to-be-passed budget proposal for an accelerated capital cost allowance and another to name the planned bridge between the city and Detroit.

Thursday night, he hit a Conservative rally in Truro, Nova Scotia. Laureen Harper made an appearance at a fundraiser in Nova Scotia for MP Scott Armstrong. Friday morning, Harper announced a new community infrastructure program linked with Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

“When the prime minister flies for government business, the costs are paid for by the government,” said spokesman Stephen Lecce in an email. “As the prime minister is prohibited from flying commercial for security reasons, when the prime minister flies for Conservative party business, the Conservative party reimburses the government the cost of the equivalent commercial flight.”

The opposition leaders also travel on the public dime and wind up at party events during their voyages.

Mulcair spokesman George Smith says the party pays for some, but not all, of the costs of the leader’s trips. Between April-December, 2014, the Montreal-based MP spent $45,520.33 in travel, according to his public disclosures.

To date, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s public disclosure shows no travel expenses for last year under the Commons budget, but some trips have not yet been logged.

“The Liberal Party of Canada pays for any party-related tours (ie fundraisers, rallies),” Trudeau spokesperson Kate Purchase said in an email.

“Only trips that are undertaken in support of parliamentary duties are charged to the House of Commons. Mr. Trudeau feels very strongly about keeping parliamentary and party expenses separate.”

Alberta’s auditor general slammed former premier Alison Redford for travelling on government planes to party events, without also coupling them with official business. The RCMP did not lay charges in that case.

Jeff Bowes, research director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said leaders can do what they want on their own time — including a partisan event. When events are combined, it’s more difficult to figure out which came first.

“Determining the details in each individual case is a little complicated but the primary purpose has to be government business, or they should be repaying the taxpayer for the expense of the travel,” Bowes said.


Official travel or campaign rally? It’s complicated

  1. Why it seems I have been right all along for these last few years of commenting about the similarities of the cons and dippers, thank you to the author for her very excellent reporting, and for proving my point. Mulcair is exactly, just like Harper, angry, attack machine, and spend taxpayers money to politic with, pot calling kettle black, Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum. I still say the election will be won by the old Progressive Conservative party vote, that’s why Harper is going after Trudeau and not laying a glove on Tom. Harper knows the PC vote is at risk to the Grits. I think Mulcair has peaked, their is not much more he can poach from the progressive vote side of the liberals. Harper has two factions of his party to keep satisfied as well, the hard right and the PC side, and both factions hate the dippers as much as the dippers hate the PCs and the hard right, that’s why I think the PC part of the Con Party will coalise with either Harper or Trudeau in order to stifle the NDP so called surge. I also think the PC part of the Conservative Party are becoming very weary of how Harper is running the country these days and are shopping for new fresh blood for the future, after all harper has spent if not billions, but probably millions of taxpayers money in the past year in order to help drive up his numbers and the cons still hover at 30% in the polls, that is happening for a reason. that shows a sign of trepidation by the PC voters. Tom still has to tell people, now that he will repeal C51, what his plan B would be to replace C51, he didn’t offer any amendments when he had the opportunity to do so, the same time the liberals did. To me that leaves a lot of cleavage for the cons and grits to expose about how Toms foreign policy will look, and how soft he is on protecting Canadian citizens when our forces are off in a foreign conflict, whether you like this new conflict or not.

    • Sounds to me like someone is running scared.

  2. There shouldn’t BE any ‘campaign rallies’.

    Senators aren’t supposed to be active campaign cheerleaders….they are supposed to be ‘sober second thought’ for the country as a whole.

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