Thursday, July 13, 2006

What’s happening at Veteran’s Affairs?

A story in the Globe today raises some troubling questions about spending practices at Veterans Affairs, both by the minister and his chief of staff.

The other day the Conservative-friendly press did a lot of crowing about how little the new Conservative government is using the government’s fleet of Challenger aircraft, and by comparison how much of a spendthrift our Head of State is. Turns out there’s a good reason at least one Minister wasn’t using the government’s Challengers: he was chartering private flights instead.

The Globe reported this morning that Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson spent $18,000 taxpayer dollars on five charter flights, averaging $3,600 a pop, between Ottawa and his New Brunswick riding, as well as PEI and Nova Scotia. Cost of a commercial flight on Air Canada, Fredericton to Ottawa return? Between $500 and $1900. While the Buy on Board selection is poor, at least you earn Aeroplan points.

Anyway, I’m sure our friends at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation will be denouncing the Conservatives on this any moment now. Anyone hear crickets?

But more disturbing, really, is the allegations contained a little further down in the Globe story. According to expense reports, Thompson’s chief of staff, Jacques Dubé, expensed $8,100 in air fare to attend “five sets of regional meetings in New Brunswick.” Yet, according to his same expense reports, he must have been in Ottawa on at least some of those days, because he also expensed lunches in the capital in the middle of these New Brunswick trips.

This information is all available on the Web, so I took a gander for myself. Here’s one example. Here we see Mr. Dubé flew to New Brunswick for regional meetings from April 3rd thru April 7th, claiming just under $1700 for air fare and transportation.

And here we see Mr. Dubé claimed $36.64 for a working lunch for two at the Lord Elgin in Ottawa on April 5.
A fairly thrifty lunch to be sure. But, wait a minute, I thought he was in New Brunswick April 3th thru 7th, how could he expense a lunch back in Ottawa on April 5th?

A little later in the month and Dubé is back in New Brunswick for more regional meetings April 10th thru 12th, this time dropping nearly $2000 in air fare.And again, in the middle of the trip, on April 11 he claims $54.05 for a slightly more expensive lunch for two, this time at the Shearton Hotel in Ottawa.
I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for how Mr. Dubé could be in two places at once, and charging the taxpayer in both Ottawa and Fredericton at the same time.

The Globe put the problem to a spokesperson for the department, but his explanation has only left me more confused. The bolding here is mine:

The spokesman said that while these regional meetings did not actually happen, the travel was work-related and the expenses were filed under a misleading heading.

"I agree that it's confusing," Mr. Lefebvre said. "He is constantly in meetings in New Brunswick and he is constantly in meetings in Ottawa." (At the same time? - BCer)

What does that mean, "these regional meetings did not actually happen"? If they didn’t happen, why was Dubé apperantly reimbursed for air fare to these non-existant meetings? And what does he mean by the expenses were "filed under a misleading heading"? Either the dates are wrong, or the locations are wrong. Is that the case? If it is, why not say so and correct it?

I’m sure there’s some reasonable explanation here. At least, you would hope there is. But we still haven’t heard one yet…

UPDATE: A commenter points out that
Dubé actually lives in Fredricton, and would appear to be commuting to work in Ottawa at taxpayer expense. The Globe story does indeed mention Dubé calls Fredricton home. Coupled with the departmenal spokesperson's comments that these regional meetings never actually happened, that raises some questions about whether these trips between home and work charged to the taxpayers were indeed legitimate business trips that are expensable, or just commuting to work, which is not an acceptable expense to charge the taxpayers and wouldn't be kosher at all.

Something seems very rotten here, and I thought the Globe missed the story somewhat by leading with Thompson's charter flights. Journalists call it burying the lede. I hope some enterprising reporters are looking into this further. Myself, I have to go look into supply chain management software.

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Dan McKenzie said...

Hey! You can't talk about this! Jimmy K! Tim Murphy! Gagliano! Morselli!

Anonymous said...

More of new gov't, same story... Let's see if these things have legs tho. I was amazed at how quickly here on the 'left coast' the item about check swapping faded away, just a day later ol' double-dipper Bill Good was brandishing sunshine and lollipops on how cute and human it was to read that Steve Harpor's mother was going to write GWB a note. But no mention of any recent gov't action, just fluff to humanize 'ol Stevie 'Soylent Green' Harpor.

Anonymous said...

As the guy who put the globe onto this and have personal knowledge. I would point out that Dube lives in NB and is being flown to his job in Ottawa by the taxpayers.

ottlib said...

Holy crap!! The Conservatives have invented transporter technology!!

Jeff said...

Anon, that's even more disturbing. As I mentioned in the post it was all rather confusing. The Globe story did mention he lived in Fredricton, that certainly gives the impression he's commuting at taxpayer expense. Very not cool, to say the least.

Jeff said...


a) I know you are, but what am I?
b) Takes one to know one.
c) If you'd provide a link to one of these stories I'd gladly include in in the post and eat my crow. A search on both the CTF Web site and Google news however has revealed nada at this point.

Jeff said...

nice bit of reporting! i haven't noticed any attention on this over on the blogging tories, perhaps it's time to rattle a few cages....