Peter MacKay in Munich: Let’s not be pound foolish

It is worth a little money to make sure the world’s governments are sort-of kind-of on the same page


Here’s the speech Peter MacKay gave at the Munich Security Conference in 2010. I’m not a huge fan of the Defence Minister’s speeches, but this one is sturdy enough. Here‘s who was in the audience: people who run much of the world, aren’t used to thinking about Canada, and will not particularly notice if a Canadian government minister fails to show up at the next conference. The kind of audience Canadian government officials need to speak to, in other words. 

I attended the 2009 Munich conference, when the newly-minted Obama administration rolled out nearly its entire foreign-policy apparatus, and Richard Holbrooke made it clear what a mess Afghanistan had become. That was a typical year. In other recent years at Munich, Vladimir Putin delivered a notoriously belligerent speech in 2007 and German’s defence minister, Joschka Fischer, told Donald Rumsfeld to his face that this Iraq war business would not be a diplomatic slam-dunk.

Last year Munich’s Bayerischer Hof hotel played host to 22 heads of state or government, 22 foreign ministers, 24 defence ministers or commanding generals, and 67 other ministers. Henry Kissinger has been going since the 1970s. Russia’s deputy premier is there every year. John McCain had to stay in Washington for votes the year I went, which amazed everyone because McCain never misses one of these things.

All of which is to say that you would think a bunch of people with a bad case of U.S. Republican envy would be all about making sure a Canadian minister shows up at Munich, speaks in Munich and gets noticed at Munich. We spend billions of dollars every time international diplomacy screws up badly enough to suck our kids into a war. It is worth a little money to make sure the world’s governments are sort-of kind-of on the same page.

But here’s the Canadian Taxpayers Federation complaining about MacKay’s hotel bill. It is profoundly idiotic. And yet, I figure the CTF’s chances of scaring the Harper government away from attending the 2012 Munich conference are a lot better than 50-50. Maybe if MacKay got his name legally changed to “Gazebo in Tony Clement’s Riding” he could spend the money he needs to do his job.


Peter MacKay in Munich: Let’s not be pound foolish

  1. Meh- I just like watching when friends turn on each other.

  2. Underground leadership contest? What underground leadership contest?

    • Oh that IS an intriguing angle. Perhaps I was hasty in my observation. Perhaps it’s old chits being called in?

  3. $1,452 a night doesn’t seem excessive to you, Paul?  I guess it’s possible that he conducts some business from his room.

    • Obviously you haven’t travelled in Europe much. The conference was at the hotel. He stayed at the hotel and paid the going rate. This nickel and diming is so penny anti its isn’t funny. He could have rented a plane from the Russians and stayed at the local Motel 8 I guess just to make people like you happy. Either we are going to play with the big boys on the international scene or we are not. If we are going to play we are going to pay.

      • Your trust and faith in the government is admirable sir. Typical liberal. 

        • I ain’t no Liberal. Ask Emily if you don’t believe me. I always use to tell my kids you need to pick your battles. Arguing about an airline ticket price or a hotel price is shabby and really reflects gotcha journalism or this case the wrong headness of the CTF.

          • Aw I’m just yanking yer chain Merv. If anyone on this board is a true blue conservative, it’s you. 

            Merry Christmas to you and yours. 

          • Merry Christmas to you and yours as well. May the new year continue to bring peace and harmony to our wonderful country. We all complain but we live in the greatest country in the world.

          • I think Dave knows that you “ain’t no Liberal”.

            I believe he was using irony to point out how much more difficult it becomes every day to distinguish between a post-2006 Tory and a pre-2006 Liberal.

            As I’ve said elsewhere, “Demand Better” morphed in to “Expect the Same” pdq.

          • “..,.only more, and harder.”

      • Check the treasury board’s suggested rates for European cities.  Munich comes in at ~$284 per night.  While Europe is expensive, it isn’t $1200/night expensive.

    • Yes you’re right Ian, it is excessive and the people that put together the conference should have gotten a better rate or picked a different hotel.  Isn’t Europe in a “debt-crisis” for goodness sakes!  I would like to know of ANY conference where the attendees didn’t stay in the hotel where the conference is held.  It is up to the organizers to make sure that they pick a venue that is affordable and secure.   Of course when  the conference is for world leaders it is possible that they would have to shut down the entire hotel to ensure the safety of conference attendees, which would drive the room costs up exponentially.

      • Of course you are right. However, if Canada did not host I doubt they had much say or control over the planning of the event. They are invited and then they decide to attend. Wouldn’t it be sad if we said no the Minister of Defence will not attend because the hotel room is too expensive for Canadian tastes. Is this how we want to conduct our business. Like a pile of cheapskates.

    • It’s not excessive in Europe.  The cheapest and smallest rooms at good hotels are $300 in most cities.  Good rooms are $500.  So it’s not unreasonable to expect the occasional $1452 a night, when availability is not good.  And on these occasions, the bill was restricted to just a few days, while the minister was attending an important conference.

  4. I absolutely agree that ministers should be able to do their job without being nickel-and-dimed to death, or nit-picked at every turn.

    However, they could be reasonable in their expenses.  No one expects him to stay in a run-down motel, but he doesn’t have to go to the other extreme either. How hard is it to choose a happy medium?  Especially since this kind of extravagance with public money seems to be a habit of his.

    And since the Cons spent their years in Opposition chasing crumbs…they complained about the food served to cabinet ministers during a dinner meeting at 24 Sussex, and complained about the food served by the GG to heads of state…..it’s certainly hypocrisy to outspend them once in govt, and claim it as a requirement of the job.

    • You don’t like the Conservatives reminding Canadians about what the Liberals did when they were in power. So turn about is fair play. Don’t criticize what the Conservatives said while in opposition. It works both ways at least for the rest of us.

      • I don’t mind in the least….but you have to expect the same in return.

        Turnabout IS fair play.

      • Don’t criticize what the Conservatives said while in opposition.

        Um, I don’t believe Emily IS criticizing what the Tories said while in opposition, per se, so much as that she is criticizing them for apparently no longer believing in anything they used to say while in opposition.  The problem isn’t what the Tories used to say about issues like accountability and transparency before they got elected, the problem is the fact that they reversed course almost immediately upon getting elected.

        The thing is, the very same people who ran an entire election campaign insisting that Canadians should “Demand Better” of their federal government now spend most of their time complaining that Canadians actually demand better of the federal government than they used to.  The issue isn’t the pre-2006 “We’re going to do things differently than the Liberals” rhetoric, the issue is the post-2006 “Why does everyone have a problem with us doing things the same way the Liberals always did” rhetoric.

        I think Canadians are more than entitled to be a bit frustrated that the Party who insisted that they were going to do things differently than their predecessors, and hold themselves to a higher standard, are pretty much constantly complaining these days (now that they’re in office) that they’re being held to a higher standard, and are expected to do things differently than their predecessors.

        • “Um, I don’t believe Emily IS criticizing what the Tories said while in opposition, per se, so much as that she is criticizing them for apparently no longer believing in anything they used to say while in opposition.”

          That was my understanding as well.  Having observed the Conservatives from fairly close up in those heady days of January 2006, I can say they immediately started gorging on the pork barrel (qv the frittering of the 15$billion surplus by mid-summer 2006 without submitting the case to the House).  Accountability, although not yet a bill on the docket, was already out the window, and they relied on their (more often than not) mistaken belief that the Liberals had done much worse. It was obvious these were not people who were going to let bienséance get in the way of getting their share no matter what.  The Liberals took years to achieve what the Conservatives did in the first weeks in office and they haven’t stopped since.  

          Harper, it seems, is going for a scorched earth policy which will leave nothing for parties which may defeat them in the future.

        • Glad I read your reply before posting my own. You nailed it exactly.

          Now I don’t have to type as much. :-)

    • That might be a valid criticism of the conference as a whole, but once you’re in you appear to be committed to the going rate and that was what it was . 

      • His entourage stayed at a different hotel, with much cheaper rates.

        • So what. He was saving taxpayer money where he could.

          • The words ‘Peter MacKay’ and ‘saving taxpayer money’ don’t belong in the same sentence.

          • Peter McKay would not have made the travel arrangements himself…a government bureaucrat did that.  Whoever did it knew that Mr. McKay needed to stay in the same place the conference was so he could meet with other delegates between official presentations.

        • Perhaps the organizers and the security requested that any government leaders and ministers stay onsite so that they could ensure their security. 

          • Or perhaps Petey just likes the high life.

          • My guess is the price of the rooms were high due to security and the fact that they probably couldn’t rent out the other rooms because of the conference.  It is also possible people required suites so that they could conduct private meetings in their rooms.  You can’t exactly ask a world leader to meet you at the Hotel Six and offer him a seat on your double bed.

          • Your ‘guess’ is irrelevant….and hiding high-living under the guise of security is an old trick.

            Pete isn’t asking world leaders anywhere.

            Hotels have meeting rooms btw

          • I am shocked, Emily!  I thought you worked in economic development and here you have no idea how business deals are made.  Meeting in your private suite rather than a hotel boardroom (of which there maybe 5 in the entire hotel) means that you can have “private” meetings that not everyone in the hotel is privy too.  You really have no idea about the level of security required for heads of state or the amount of press that would be in attendance.  For an apparently savy business woman, you are very naive.

          • It’s because I know how business deals are made, that I regard this as total nonsense.

            This was not a meeting of heads of state….although I gather Petey thinks he’s one. LOL

          • CTV is reporting that the German government asked the delegates to stay at the hotel.  The CTF is saying the meetings should have been held at an airforce base to ensure security at a cheaper price.

  5. I, too, find the comments of the CTF idiotic.  It’s good that Canada was there with our Defense Minister, it’s good that he was invited to give a speech, and it’s good that he stayed where the conference was held.  Peter MacKay is much appreciated by Canadian troops.  He has to travel a lot, which loses its thrill after a while, adjusting to all sorts of time changes, food, etc.  Enough of this trying to find weekly scandals… it did the Liberals no favours in the last election.

  6. He could do his job just as well in a hotel that costs $250/night. His total bill came out to 9 months of Ontario Works payments ($592 is the maximum monthly allowance). This government wants to wax philosophical about austerity, while McKay is behaving like a playboy. Also – it is irrelevant that other “important” people have stayed at this hotel. The point is that it’s morally reprehensible that these people would live the high life so overtly while most of the people they “lead” can’t get a job, or are brainwashed by entertainment, shitty consumer goods and things they think make their terrible existence better. Enough is enough. 

    • (This all just furthering Paul’s point, which was all big picture and smart and stuff)  To Liam:

      1. Brainwashing and consumer good issues belong at the other website – you know, the one
      that requires you to wear the tinfoil hat to log on.

      2. No, he couldn’t do his job just as well at a hotel that costs $250/night.  It’s not “morally reprehensible” to go to a conference and stay at the hotel the conference is held at, especially when it’s an important conference to attend and you want to be able to get your issues noticed by attendees.  I’ve done that, lots, staying both at and away from conference sites.  The latter is a bitch. 

      Put another way, what a cheap way for Canada to be able to conduct a bunch of face to face high level policy meetings with European allies!  To carry that argument one step further, why do we insist that Mackay do it with one arm tied behind his back, handicapping him by having his staff (Canadian diplomats, trade experts, security experts, foreign policy experts) stay off-site?  Do you think the number of French diplomats at the hotel was more, or less, than 1?  And do you think Canada has more, or less, of an interest in having its stragetic perspective noticed (in the immediate wake of its Afgan and Syria contributions, when it had a lot of frustration with other countries’ contributions and when it can still capitalize on some of the political capital earned, and given that it is taking a time out from deploying troops for the year or two)?

      • No one is forcing the Canadian government to send anyone, which would also save on transportation costs.

    • Take a look at the hotel where the conference was held:


      Notice anything? There are no rooms that cost $250 per night. To get a queen bed the cheapest is $350. If you want a suite, the cheapest is $1205.

    • The elitism of politicians would decrease if the electoral quotient were to decrease.

  7. I’m a 100% in agreement with Paul.  I do appreciate the CTF’s reports on government waste, but in this case they are off base.  No where was it mentioned the security costs/requirements for safe keeping the higher ups in one place.  The fact that MacKay’s staff stayed a few blocks away at the cheaper hotel (under $300/night should be applauded.
    This topic was aired on radio last Friday and every one of the callers dissed the CTF – like where did they expect MacKay, our countries defence minister to stay, at the Motel 6???

  8. It’s not about government spending, it’s about what the CTF needs: the final nail in the old PC Party members.

    There’s a sentiment that MacKay has a good chance of becoming the next PM. That can’t happen for the CTF.

    • Someone is certainly out to get him, but he keeps handing them ammunition

  9. Oh, Paul, there you go providing context again. Geez, how are we all going to go off half-cocked about playboy cabinet ministers if you’re going to just ruin our fun?

    • Yes, it’s really difficult to rustle up a lynch mob armed with pitchforks and torches when you’re providing this sort of balance.  Stop it, Paul.

  10. You cannot tell me that MacKay’s associates could get rooms for just over $200.00 but he had to pay over $4,000.00 so that he could do his job!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Give me a break. It is logic like this that allows these over-indulged, spoiled, arrogant, self-centred hypocrits to get away with what they do.

    • Jackie, have you ever gone to a conference?  Did you stay in the hotel where the conference was booked?  Did you try to find alternate, cheaper accomodations even though you might have to take a subway to get to the conference?

      • There you go again, attempting to bring balance, context and perspective into this discussion.  Stop it! 

        • I have been to conferences…they are not much fun.  They run from early morniing until late at night. The call them breakfast meetings and dinner meetings but really they are all meetings.   If a person needs to meet with business contacts between presentations and you need privacy, you need a suite.  Why bother going to the conference if you are planning to stay away from the hotel and miss the opportunity to do deals?  People lament Canada’s lack of clout and status on the international stage….well, hello!  We want our ministers to stay outside the building and still get the job done.

          • You are right of course. But according to the all knowing Emily MacKay should have declined to attend because Canada cannot afford the price of the hotel room and there is not a Super 8 close by.
            I never saw such a bunch of whiny babies on this board.

  11. I’m torn on this one.

    On the one hand, I’m the first to caution us against nickel and diming our politicians.  On the other hand, hotel rooms in the $750-1500 per night range seem somewhat excessive, imho.  

    I’d also suggest that the notion that our nation’s only two choices were “The Minister stays in a $1500/night room or we DON’T SEND HIM” may be a bit specious.  I’m not sure it’s really essential that the Minister be in the same hotel that the conference is being held at (if I have to get up a bit early and go to bed a bit late because of my commute, why can’t the Minister?); and I’m not sure why he needed a room worth more than double the rooms that his staff stayed at in the VERY SAME HOTEL in Isantbul.

    In the end, I guess I’ll chalk it up to “I shouldn’t care” though.

    • Okay, let me get this straight…..we are having a conference for world leaders and delegates and we have “ultra” security….perhaps to the degree that we have closed the entire hotel except for those rooms being used by the visiting government representatives.   Everyone is secure in their hotel room at the conference…..except for….Canada’s minister of defence.  He is staying 10 blocks away at the “Super 8″….with no security.  If it is good enough for Lord Kitchners Own who is the minister of ?????, it is good enough for the Canada delegate….afterall, who would want to hurt or kidnap a Canadian government minister?

      • I’m not sure about the security angle.  Surely at an international conference, security is the responsibility of the host nation and they would arrange for security to be provided by their police and military, as they would have the necessary authority to carry arms and use lethal force if the occasion demanded. I don’t know that the hotel or venue itself would provide much security (for one, all those people would have to be screened), but I would not expect it would amount to major padding of hotel rooms.

        That said, I don’t have a problem with Mackay (or any minister required to attend an international gathering) staying at these places for the cost involved, providing he was actually there to do something useful and not just for a photo op junket.

        What I find amusing is that the CPC would have been 100% against this when they were in opposition but now its perfectly OK to do the same now that the’re in charge.  I guess the difference is that they’re standing up for Canada, the other guys clearly were not.

        • I am certain that the host country is providing the security.  My point is that ALL the security will be at the hotel where the conference is held….not at a cheap hotel blocks away.  I am also suggesting that in the minds of these Canadian bloggers, Peter McKay is nobody but in reality, he is the defence minister of a country.  People here act like he should be staying at the local hostel. 
          As for the CPC complaining…..do you have a source when they complained about a government minister staying at a hotel hosting an international conference.  If they did, they were hugely naive.  Why bother sending a delegate if he has no opportunity to meet with other delegates between presentations?  To do so, you need a place to meet…a suite.  You cannot meet in the coffee shop because afterall…there are security issues….someone might overhear your conversation.

  12. Canadian foreign policy is such a disappointment, and I say that as a student who has a passion for IR. Honestly when you see Canada’s government just completely coincide with America’s mannequin outlook of the world, it’s really quite sad if not pathetic. The world today is at a crucial stage: the Arab spring, the US leaving Iraq, increased hostilities with Iran, Europe’s banking system fragmenting, the list is endless- and yet you’d think somewhere in all of this there’d be a Canadian voice, however small, or insignificant, but a distinct CANADIAN voice representing what Canada would like to see on the world stage. What efforts has Canada done today to take advantage of the fact it’s a middle power who yields influence abroad? Could not of Canada acted as a mediator to bring ease to the conflict between the West and Iran, (this is not defending Iran’s current regime). What happend to the vision of peace keepers to stop conflict and a foreign policy which sought to create a world based on mutual interest. It’s not a matter of Conservatives versus liberals, this is a matter of when it comes to Canada in acting an actual foreign policy it stops so short of it’s true potential, and my only blame for this is sheer ignorance and laziness on the part of our so called elite. The people who run this Country are semi-literate badly tailored plebeians who know nothing about contemporary affairs. This contienent yearns for a better breed of politician, and I’ve yet to see it. 

    • In Iran, you probably trotted out the worst possible example.  For one thing, we’ve been in the doghouse with them ever since the Ken Taylor “Canadian Caper” back in the early 1980s.  Then there was the matter of that Canadian-Iranian journalist who got beaten to death.  We’re really not in a position to be a mediator in that particular country.

  13. Since the Conservatives got so much mileage out of that $1.80 pack of gum David Dingwall expensed while he was at the Royal Mint, perhaps they deserve to wear this one, reasonable or not.

    • Anybody who expenses a pack of gum deserves to be pilloried.  And even if it were unreasonable, two wrongs don’t make a right.

      I look at it from a different angle. If this is the only crap that the CTF can dig up, then the Conservatives are doing a pretty good job keeping things clean, despite all the claims of non-existent scandals that were floated by the opposition the last few years.

  14. So nothing from Paul about MacKay’s bald faced lies in the past few weeks but now it’s time to talk about MacKay to exonerate him.

    Bang up job..

    • Yeah, isn’t it great? And as long as nobody in Canada reads anything but Inkless for their news, my little whitewash will work perfectly. 

      • Weak reply. You’ve shown with Rights and Democracy you can do good work. Why address MacKay now? Why not two weeks ago?

        • Because I didn’t think I had anything to add. I showed with Rights and Democracy that I’m bored writing what everyone else is writing. 

  15. Wells is entirely correct with this. I’m not a supporter of the current government but this nickel and dime whining complicates the issue when there is a real problem of  abuse. Maybe all those flights MacKay took are a problem, but hotels in Europe?  Just the cost of doing business.

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