Single department spent $160K at Liberal cabinet's 'affordability retreat'

Final total for the three-day meeting, which produced no concrete plans to tackle the rising cost of living, could be much higher

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OTTAWA — The Liberals’ cabinet retreat in August, focusing on the rising cost of living for Canadians, ran up a six-figure tab from just one government department, while any expenses from other departments have yet to be disclosed.

The Privy Council Office (PCO) confirmed it spent $160,467.17 on lodging and transportation at the P.E.I. summer retreat. The costs were disclosed in a response to an order paper question by Conservative MP Tracy Gray.

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The total cost of the retreat could be higher, since the PCO was the only department to provide an answer to Gray’s question.

Opposition ethics critic Michael Barrett portrayed the spending as ironic given the theme of the retreat.

“Instead of reducing their wasteful spending that is driving up the cost of everything, Justin Trudeau and his Liberal ministers racked up a whopping $160,000 bill for their so called ‘affordability retreat’ in Prince Edward Island,” said the Conservative MP.

The PCO expenses listed a single $1,169 charge to Airbnb, which was targeted by new measures contained within Tuesday’s fall economic statement that are designed to discourage property owners from listing apartments and homes in jurisdictions that restrict their use.

Privy Council spokesperson Irfan Mian said the Airbnb charge was for a four-night stay and was made “due to limited availability in commercial accommodations nearby and was the cheapest option available,” and met government travel guidelines.

Mian said the amount spent by PCO included airfare for 29 travellers, including 26 PCO support staff, one ministerial staffer and two guest speakers.

Mian said nearly $90,000 spent by the PCO on accommodations was to house 49 travellers.

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Those costs are not a complete picture of the total spent on the retreat, however.

“Expenditures only include travel expenses for Privy Council Office and PCO supported Ministers and their staff who attended the cabinet retreat,” read an explanatory note included with the response.

“PCO does not have this information for attendees from other departments.”

As well, PCO’s responses only reflected expenses submitted as of the end of September and do not include any travel claims and invoices processed after that.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau along with 38 cabinet ministers and associated staff descended on Charlottetown for their three-day meeting from Aug. 21-23 with a promise to find solutions addressing Canada’s housing and affordability crisis.

Hotel costs came to $88,930.01, with 43 separate room charges appearing on the breakdown split between two Charlottetown hotels, the Delta Hotels Prince Edward on the city’s waterfront and the nearby Holman Grand Hotel.

Room charges listed on the breakdown range from $1,200 to $3,200 each.

Meal and incidental charges came to $20,733.45, with $7,689.65 listed under “other transportation.”

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The Prime Minister’s Office had said the P.E.I. getaway would focus on “making life more affordable” for Canadians and ministers heard from analysts and academics specializing in housing policy and the cost of living.

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No concrete plans seemed to come out of those meetings however, with Trudeau offering reporters no new information on how his government had planned to tackle rising inflation and the soaring cost of housing.

“We are looking forward to continue to do the work we’ve been doing on housing and do even more,” Trudeau said at a post-meeting press conference.

“Nothing screams ‘fighting inflation’ like sticking taxpayers with a six-figure tab for a fancy minister’s retreat,” said Franco Terrazzano, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“If the government was really serious about making life more affordable for Canadians, they would stop wasting crazy amounts of taxpayers’ money and cut taxes,” he said.

The PCO is overseen by five cabinet ministers: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Government House Leader Karina Gould, King’s Privy Council President Harjit Sajjan (who is also minister of emergency preparedness), and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

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