Hospitality suite for Calgary city councillors at FCM conference raises concerns

CBC News has learned city councillors spent roughly $3,400 on a booze-filled hospitality suite at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Ontario earlier this year.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he didn't know about the booze-filled suite, plans to raise it to council committee

Municipal leaders and senior staff from across Canada gathered together to discuss the challenges facing local governments at the FCM conference held in Niagara Falls, Ont., from May 30 to June 2. (FCM/Facebook)

CBC News has learned city councillors spent roughly $3,400 on a hospitality suite at a conference in Ontario earlier this year.

There were 11 council members at this year's Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) meeting that started in Niagara Falls on May 30.

The suite was supposed to be a place where councillors could network with other delegates during the meeting. 

A city staffer was even sent to the conference to keep the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza suite well-stocked with liquor and snacks.

But the councillor who approved the suite, after being approached by city staff, says it won't be repeated at next year's meeting.

Not much networking, says councillor

Ward 11 Coun. Brian Pincott, the city council's representative on the FCM, agreed to a budget of $5,000 and thought it would be a good quiet place where members of the Calgary delegation could meet with others at the conference. 

Pincott did not visit the room, but says there wasn't much networking happening there.

He said it was mostly used by a handful of city councillors and their spouses.

"From what I've heard, it was a good place for Calgary delegates to retreat," he said.

Councillor defends suite

Ward 10 Coun. Andre Chabot says the hospitality suite was a good idea and he used it to meet with politicians from other municipalities.

"For me, it was a real good opportunity to, I guess, meet with some of those individuals within the Calgary region predominantly to discuss issues that are relevant to Calgary," he said.

But several council members didn't even know about the hospitality suite, including Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

The mayor doesn't drink alcohol, but feels there should have been a council vote to spend public money on entertaining.

"If the taxpayer is actually paying somebody to fly someone out and stock a hotel room with booze so that councillors have unlimited access to the booze while they're supposed to be at a conference working — well I got a bit of a problem with that," he said.

Mayor to raise concerns

Nenshi plans to raise his concerns with a council committee.          

Calgary used to provide a hospitality suite each year, but the practice stopped in 2008 because there was the sentiment it was becoming a party room. The city also felt there wasn't a need for one, since many other municipalities offer hospitality suites of their own.

Expensing alcohol has been a hot topic recently at council, with the latest decision prohibiting council members from using tax dollars to buy alcohol for city staff.

Without including the hospitality suite, the trip cost Calgary taxpayers roughly $38,000. Councillors Druh Farrell, Diane Colley-Urqhart and Ward Sutherland did not attend.

Below is a list of expenses from the conference. On mobile? Click here.