Oliver charged taxpayers for flight upgrades


OTTAWA – Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver charged taxpayers hundreds of dollars to upgrade his seat on flights and spent more than $5,000 twice on in-country flights during his time as a cabinet minister.

In July 2012, Oliver spent $5,593 on two one-way flights between Toronto and Calgary so he could hold roundtable meetings with oil, gas, steel and pipeline companies.

The flights were the biggest cost for the trip, which came to $7,483. A few months earlier, in April 2012, a trip to Calgary came with an airfare bill of $6,710.55.

Oliver charged $529 in March 2014 for an upgrade on flights that went between Ottawa, Houston and Toronto. He also charged about $500 for a business-class upgrade on a flight from Edmonton to Vancouver in March 2012.

The figures are contained in publicly available expense disclosures Oliver filed while he was the minister of natural resources. Details of the spending are outlined in receipts obtained by The Canadian Press.

Oliver’s ministerial spokesman said Oliver followed all the rules when he travelled nationally and internationally on government business, including picking hotels that were close to where he had events.

“Joe Oliver has travelled extensively in his capacity as a cabinet minister and always complies with government guidelines. He flies business class according to guidelines and because it permits him to work on the flight,” Nick Bergamini said.

Bergamini said Oliver sometimes had no other choice but to book flexible airfares that tend to be more expensive.

“Because his schedule frequently changes at the last minute, it is more economical to book flexible flights.”

Federal travel rules allow ministers to charge for business class or higher when they are on a flight that is more than two hours long. Many upgrade their seats through travel points collected as they travel the country on government business, which doesn’t add extra costs to the public purse.

Travel expenses have been a thorn in the side of the Conservative government before.

Former cabinet minister Bev Oda lost her post following public outrage that she charged taxpayers for a $16 glass of orange juice during a stay at the swanky Savoy hotel in London, U.K.

Oliver did charge $16 US for a drink at the rooftop restaurant of the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem while he was there in late June 2012. The receipt doesn’t describe the drink, but the prices on the hotel menu suggest either scotch or vodka.

Like flights, Oliver selects hotels that fall within government spending guidelines, Bergamini said. Those hotels are “usually close to where he had to deliver a speech or attend meetings.”

Oliver stayed at higher-end hotel rooms like exclusive “Fairmont Gold” rooms. One night in such a room in the Fairmont Palliser in Calgary in February 2012 cost $380, including taxes, a local destination marketing fee and a Alberta tourism levy.

The receipt from a stay at a similar room at the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver in February 2013 cost $1,625 for two nights, taxes included. (The public disclosure document lists the cost of accommodations at $785, which would be one night. The receipt says Oliver paid for two nights.)

A review of Oliver’s top spending trip during his time in cabinet shows his travel cost the public purse about $68,434 on domestic trips, all when he was natural resources minister, and about $148,440 more for 10 international trips, four of which were since June 2014 after he became finance minister.

Follow @jpress on Twitter