5 blush-worthy public expense missteps
Oda's $16 O.J. just latest example in controversies over reimbursements on the public's dime
Canadian International Development Minister Bev Oda's $16 bottle of orange juice becomes the latest example of a public figure getting into trouble over his or her expense claims.
The minister generated headlines this week after documents obtained by The Canadian Press showed Oda refused to stay at one five-star hotel in London, England, last year and rebooked at a swanky establishment for more than double the cost.
Her office, which originally said the expenses met government guidelines, confirmed Monday the minister has personally reimbursed taxpayers for the difference in cost between the two hotels, the cancellation fee and a costly bottle of juice.
Here are a few examples of some red-faced moments in public expense reports, in which those involved likely wished they had gone back and done — or in the case of David Dingwall, said — a few things differently.
1. Cleaning the moat: Britain's parliamentarians became embroiled in scandal in 2009 over their declared expenses after the Daily Telegraph obtained an uncensored copy of their claims and published them.
Details disclosed by the newspaper showed how MPs from all parties manipulated rules by routinely switching the designation of their second home — using public money to furnish and improve several properties and later sell them at a profit.
Facing fierce public fury as embarrassing details emerged daily, nearly 400 British MPs, including then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, were ordered to pay back close to $2 million in wrongfully claimed expenses.
But amid the outrage, one the most publicized cases was of that then Conservative MP Douglas Hogg, who was alleged to have expensed the cleaning of a moat at his family's country estate. Hogg agreed to repay the cost of cleaning the moat, but insisted he had only listed the cleaning cost as an expenditure on his house and never asked to be reimbursed. He decided not to stand for his seat in the 2010 election.
2. EHealth Ontario: A scandal broke out in Ontario in 2009 over wasteful and untendered consulting contracts at eHealth, a provincial Crown corporation charged with creating an electronic health records system. The controversy over eHealth's spending led to the resignation of then Health Minister David Caplan.
Among the embarrassing revelations at eHealth, CBC News obtained documents that showed consultants, contracted by eHealth at up to $2,750 a day, billed taxpayers for out-of-pocket expenses that included $1.65 for a cup of tea and $3.99 for cookies.
The documents said eHealth CEO and president Sarah Kramer billed thousands of dollars for limousine rides, including one $400 trip from Toronto to London, Ont., before she left her $380,000-a-year job in June of that year.
3. Nova Scotia MLA scandal: Nova Scotia's provincial legislature was rocked by a report by the provincial auditor general that found that many MLAs submitted questionable expense claims over a number of years. The affair evolved into a criminal investigation that led to several MLAs resigning and at least one former member being sentenced to prison.
Ex-Liberal MLA Dave Wilson pleaded guilty to defrauding Nova Scotia taxpayers of nearly $61,000 to support his gambling addiction and was sentenced last week to nine months of jail time and 18 months of probation. Crown attorneys in his case detailed how Wilson submitted 36 false expense receipts using five people's names — including his niece and brother-in-law — totalling $60,995.
Wilson apologized to his family and the people of the province, telling the court he was deeply ashamed of his actions.
4. George Radwanski: Former federal privacy commissioner George Radwanski resigned in 2003 under a cloud following intense scrutiny of his spending. At the time, Radwanski blamed "a powerful political backlash from some who would prefer a less forceful privacy commissioner." His severance package was initially $82,562, but later cut to nothing.
Radwanski resigned after a Commons committee called for a full audit of Radwanski's expense claims, which included more than $500,000 in travel claims, $250 drinks tabs and dinner bills of more than $450, usually shared with one staff member.
Auditor General Sheila Fraser's report called for an RCMP investigation of Radwanski after her department's audit revealed "a major failure of management controls and the abuse of public funds by the former commissioner and some senior executives, for their personal benefit."
In 2009, an Ontario judge acquitted Radwanski of criminal fraud charges, but criticized his "negligent and cavalier" approach to accounting for controversial expenses he claimed while in office. Radwanski's former chief of staff, Art Lamarche, was convicted of breach of trust. Radwanski acknowledged he wished he had done some things differently, but insisted he "never acted dishonestly or knowingly improperly in any way."
5. "I'm entitled to my entitlements": In February 2006, former Liberal cabinet minister David Dingwall was awarded $417,780 in compensation after an independent arbitrator concluded he was forced out of his $277,000-a-year job as head of the Royal Canadian Mint.
His removal from the head of the Crown corporation came amid a frenzy caused by unproven allegations that he and his office made improper and excessive expense claims, as the then Liberal government was reeling from the inquiry into the federal sponsorship scandal.
Opposition MPs, including then Opposition Leader Stephen Harper, portrayed the Dingwall case as a sign of Liberal misspending, accusing him of wasting taxpayers' money on reimbursement claims for expensive meals, excessive travel and even a pack of chewing gum.
In the midst of the controversy over his resignation and compensation package, Dingwall drew the scorn of opposition parties when he said the now notorious words to a Commons committee: "I'm entitled to my entitlements."
Harper's party picked up the phrase and used it repeatedly as an example of Liberal arrogance during the campaign leading up to the Jan. 23, 2006, general election.
In fact, an independent audit of the expenses by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers later found that more than 70 per cent of them were incurred by other employees in Dingwall's office at the Mint, and that all the payments had been properly approved under the Crown corporation's guidelines.
A second independent review by law firm Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt concluded the governance of expendures at the Mint went "well beyond what one could expect to find in most private-sector corporations."