The federal government spent $121,454 on a Toronto reception for leaders of the European Union in September — a reception which, in turn, led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to offer his guests a $338,000 ride home on a government Airbus.

The reception was a late add-on to a Sept. 26 summit in Ottawa where the leaders celebrated the end of negotiations towards a free trade agreement with Europe, known as CETA [the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement]. 

Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, were flown with their staff to Toronto for the reception, causing them to miss a scheduled commercial flight home from Ottawa.

The trip was treated as a "royal visit" by orders of the prime minister's office and the reception, at the Fairmont Royal York, brought in business leaders to meet the visiting delegation.

The event meant flying in 17 government staff and renting a motorcade of vehicles to ferry staff and dignitaries to and from Pearson airport.

Over $30,000 for room and food

It didn't come cheap. Some of the costs are broken down in a summary obtained by NDP MP Don Davies under the access to information law:

  • $33,801 for the room and food.
  • $13,049 for drinks.
  • $8,101 for music (The Four Tenors and a military band).
  • $14,489 for staging and audio/visual services.
  • $19,323 for backdrops (saying "Canada-EU Summit").
  • $13,211 for airfare and hotels for 17 government staff.
  • $11,627 for vehicle rentals.

With the addition of flowers, linens, printing and photography, the total for the evening was $121,454.09.

Stephen Harper with EU leaders on Parliament Hill

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures as he stands with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, right, and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy before a meeting on Parliament Hill on Sept. 26, 2014. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

After the reception, the European delegates were taken back to the airport and flown to Brussels on the A310 Airbus usually used by the prime minister. It costs $22,537 an hour to operate, according to 2012 figures. Assuming 15 hours' flight time to Brussels and back, the flight would have cost the government $338,055.

Added to the bill for the reception, that means the decision to add the Toronto event to the Ottawa summit cost a total of $459,509. 

"The Conservatives blew nearly half a million dollars on a party and a needless public relations exercise‎. This money would be much better spent helping Canadians, and Canadian businesses, benefit from trade opportunities," Davies said.

Other expenses, such as moving the delegation from Ottawa to Toronto, and the cost of hotels in Brussels for the flight crew, are not included.