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Wining and dining at Canada’s embassies abroad escaped the axe as the federal government grappled with across-the-board cuts in this year’s budget.
Former British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell is racking up the biggest hospitality tab so far this year.
In the first five months of 2012, the high commissioner to the United Kingdom has billed $67,026 on dinners, lunches, and cocktail receptions. He's also billed three tuxedo rentals at a cost of $600.
Campbell's total tab is nearly three times more than any other ambassador in the same period, according to figures posted online by Foreign Affairs under proactive disclosure rules.
But the department says the costs are in line with one of the largest Canadian missions abroad, reflecting the U.K.’s “importance to Canadian economic and security interests.”
“As such, the High Commission’s hospitality expenses are in line with the pivotal role it plays in promoting Canada’s economic and foreign policy priorities abroad,” spokesman Ian Trites told CBC News.
Canada’s ambassador in Tokyo, Jonathan Fried, has the second-highest tab, with expenses totalling $23,408.
The top diplomat in Washington, Gary Doer, is among the more frugal ambassadors, spending just $2,682 on hospitality in the five-month period.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Loyola Hearn, now the ambassador in Ireland, is also among the more modest spenders, filing expenses worth $5,723. About half of that total was for cases of wine and freight fees, purchased to advance "advocacy to Canada's public policy."
Federal departments are grappling with cuts this year, but Foreign Affairs says the hospitality budget for cocktail receptions, dinners, breakfasts and other events hosted by ambassadors and other embassy officials will not be trimmed.
"The hospitality budgets have been preserved at current levels,” Trites said. “Hospitality is a necessity of the business of diplomacy, but we do so with the taxpayer top of mind. We continually assess whether we can do hospitality differently and in a more cost-effective manner."
Last fiscal year, spending on hospitality was $5,994,922, nearly on par with the previous year’s $6,115,460.