OTTAWA – Health Minister Jane Philpott will stop using a pricey limousine service owned by a Liberal supporter after Conservatives complained about a $1,700 bill for transportation in the Greater Toronto Area.
Philpott said in a statement Wednesday the price tag was “too high” and “inappropriate.”
“I have already taken steps to prevent this from occurring in the future,” she said.
While Philpott’s office said the minister won’t use the limo service again, it stopped short of saying she would repay the money, noting the transportation was for legitimate business.
While the Tories demanded Philpott repay the $1,700, her office revealed even higher expenses paid to the same limo service – Executive Sedan Livery Service Inc. – including a $1,994 bill for a car on the day the minister spoke at a July gathering of the Assembly of First Nations in Niagara Falls, Ont.
The minister also paid the company $3,814 for 20 trips to Toronto’s Pearson Airport before flying to Ottawa for ministerial business.
The limo service is owned by Reza Shirani, who was a volunteer on Philpott’s election campaign last year. Philpott’s office admitted the minister was aware of that connection when she used the service.
Tory health critic Colin Carrie said Philpott must immediately reimburse taxpayers.
“I think the average Canadian can connect the dots here – she has overpaid a Liberal activist three times the going rate. We are not talking the going rate,” Carrie said in an interview.
“Some people would call this a kickback. She needs to pay it back. She signed off on these … This is not a one time mistake.”
Canadian Taxpayers Federation federal director Aaron Wudrick agreed.
“Clearly there is an acknowledgment that something is wrong, which is why they are not doing it anymore,” he said.
“Why are they not reimbursing taxpayers if they acknowledge that it is wrong?”
The spending reflects poor political judgment, NDP MP Charlie Angus said.
“I think what is worrisome here is this pattern,” he said.
“She becomes the minister and suddenly there is a level of Bev Oda-style entitlement.”
In 2012, former International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda agreed to repay almost $3,000 she charged taxpayers for the use of a luxury car and driver while staying at a posh hotel in London.
Philpott’s use of the costly car service should have been flagged sooner, Angus added.
“No one is asking minister Philpott to lug it on the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) … but spending amounts like $1,700 a day, literally helping a Liberal friend through a limousine service is not acceptable.”