P.E.I.'s two cities spent nearly $50,000 this year to send 12 council members to a convention in Vancouver, and even some councillors who went say that's too much.
The annual conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities was held May 31 to June 3 in Vancouver. Charlottetown sent seven councillors and Summerside five, including both mayors. Summerside Coun. Bruce MacDougall also attended, representing the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities, and the city did not pay for his trip.
Kevin Lacey of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation wonders why so many councillors had to go, though he acknowledged it's important for municipalities to be represented at such events.
"We expect our politicians to travel to represent our interests," he said.
"The problem here is the sheer expense. The City of Summerside does not need to send six people to a conference in Vancouver. It's not a good use of taxpayers' money."
Lacey suggested fewer councillors could go, and share notes with fellow councillors afterwards.
There were 1,800 delegates at the meeting representing the federation's 2,000 member municipalities.
Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart, former national president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said there is strength in numbers at these meetings, and important work is done.
"Over last seven or eight years since gas taxes and infrastructure dollars started flowing to municipalities, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities now represents over 90 per cent of the Canadian population," said Stewart.
"Municipalities are starting to realize that when we bind together, the federal government will sit up and pay attention and listen. There's no question in my mind it pays off to be there."
Summerside councillors spend more
There was a difference in cost between sending a Summerside councillor to the meeting and sending one from Charlottetown.
'We were somewhat taken aback by the cost of the room.' - Coun. Peter Holman
The total cost for Charlottetown was $25,297.00 for seven delegates and for Summerside $24,589.84 for five delegates. That comes to an average of $4,917.97 for Summerside councillors and $3,613.86 for Charlottetown councillors.
The most expensive council member from either community was Mayor Basil Stewart, his bill came to more than $5,000. Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee's trip cost about $4,000. Stewart said his bill has higher than others because he picked up some of the food tab for other councillors, something he said he won't be doing any more.
But the biggest difference came from accommodation costs. Four Summerside councillors stayed for six nights at the Fairmont Pacific Rim at a cost of $360 a night plus taxes and fees. Charlottetown councillors stayed at the Executive Hotel Le Soleil Vancouver, a few blocks from the conference centre, for four or five nights at a rate of $215 plus taxes and fees.
The exception was Summerside Coun. Frank Costa, who used a special rate available through his day job to stay at the Delta for $130 a night. He also stayed with family for a night.
Summerside Coun. Peter Holman said he had no idea what kind of hotel he was booked into until he walked in and saw the posted room rate.
"The daily rate that was posted on the door indicated it was approximately $500 a night, and we were somewhat taken aback by cost of the room," said Holman.
"It was extremely ultra-modern, you pushed a button and your drapes open, you pushed a button and your lights dim. It had a TV in the bathroom, type of thing. It was a phenomenal room there is no doubt about it. As nice as it was it was not something we needed to have, that's for sure."
The rooms were booked by a staff person through the mayor's office, and Stewart defended the choice.
"If you stay outside of town you'd probably get a better rate per night but if you want to get a taxi to go into your meetings it doesn't take long to run up [another bill]," said Stewart.
"I never wasted any taxpayers' money."
The mayor's office went through the list of hotels provided by the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, and the Pacific Rim was first on the list to have rooms available.
Charlottetown Coun. Jason Coady had one of the cheapest trips to the meeting, costing about $3,200. Coady said if he could attend for that cost, he didn't see why everyone else couldn't as well.
In all, the cities would have saved about $12,000 if everyone attended on Coady's budget.