Canada-EU summit reception costs keep rising - to $162K

The government has revealed new figures for a reception last fall for visiting European officials and business representatives to celebrate the conclusion of talks on a Canada-EU free-trade deal - figures that show the bill growing by about $40,000 to $162,863.

Event at Toronto's Royal York in September included invitees from corporate Canada

New figures disclosed by the government show a reception held at Toronto's Royal York to promote the free-trade deal between the EU and Canada cost at least $162,863. (CBC)

It was a grand affair — which is just as well. For $162,863, you want more than cheese dip and some dried-up carrots.

But then, the plan called for "royal" treatment of the visitors. The Prime Minister's Office had insisted on that when Herman Van Rompuy, then president of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, then head of the European Commission, stopped in Ottawa last Sept. 26.

After all, the occasion marked the end of negotiations — OK, nearly the end — for the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the long-sought free-trade agreement between Canada and the European Union.

And the PMO could hardly complain that it wasn't royal enough. The food, the drinks and the room at Toronto's Royal York Hotel cost a little north of $50,000.

But only a cheapskate would leave it at that. And, in a new update to an earlier disclosure that pegged overall costs at $121,454, it seems the bill has edged substantially upwards — by about $40,000.

In a just-released written reply to Arnold Chan, the Liberal MP for Scarborough-Agincourt, the government reveals that flying 17 staffers from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to Toronto cost $23,000. A motorcade to get everyone from downtown Ottawa to the airport cost $21,000. Vehicle rentals added $12,000 more.

A previous disclosure revealed the event caused $9,533 in overtime for the RCMP.

But the entertainment at the Royal York beano was surely a bargain — just $10,400 to bring in a military band and Canadian quartet The Tenors to serenade guests as they rubbed shoulders with the European delegation.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, centre, arrives with Herman Van Rompuy, left, then-president of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, right, then-president of the European Commission, in Toronto Sept. 26 for a reception to promote the Canada-EU trade deal. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

True, the European leaders had already enjoyed a full-dress reception on Parliament Hill — inspection of the honour guard, parade down the Hall of Honour, signing ceremony, the works. And, true, the visitors had a commercial flight booked back from Ottawa to Brussels.

But the government insisted they stay for a second reception in Toronto, to meet the business elite. And nobody was going to tell Jose Manuel Barroso to — what? Grab a cab to the airport and take the red-eye? And end up cooling his heels in a transit lounge in Frankfurt?

That wouldn't do. So the government famously agreed to fly the guests home to Brussels in the prime minister's Airbus, at a cost of at least $300,000.

A list of reception expenses paid by the Department of Foreign Affairs, released this week. (Dept. of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development)

View a larger version of this chart

That much we knew — and, next to that, the reception may seem like a trifle. But it had to be done right. It seems the backdrops for the stage — just the backdrops — cost more than $19,000. The staging and the audio-visual setup added nearly $15,000 to that.

But the translation was a steal! Just $919 to translate both the program and the menu!

In fairness, it was a pretty big affair. The guest list included a who's-who of Canadian business: bankers, auto executives, BlackBerry, SNC Lavalin, Bombardier, Tim Horton's and, of course, Mercedes-Benz. CBC News has learned that members of the Conservative Party's National Council were also invited.

So — was it worth it? Buried in the answer to Arnold Chan's question, the government's written reply handles the matter tactfully.

It says that it has "no information with regard to a value-for-money assessment for the Toronto event."

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Terry Milewski worked in 50 countries during 38 years with the CBC. He was the CBC's first Middle East Bureau Chief, spent eight years in Washington during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations and was based in Vancouver for 14 years before returning to Ottawa as senior correspondent.


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