Catherine McKenna calls for review after $6,600 photography bill at climate summit
Environment minister says using official photographer is a long-standing government practice
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna defended her ministry's decision to employ a professional photographer to document her work at the COP21 climate summit in Paris last fall, but said Tuesday she has now instructed her department to review the pricey practice.
"Pictures are an important part of how we transmit our message, but we need to do it in a way that is mindful of taxpayers. Previous governments used photographers as well but we can do better, and that's something I'm committed to personally," she told reporters at an infrastructure announcement in Ottawa.
"I think there are ways that we can reduce costs."
CTV revealed Monday that the ministry paid out some $6,600 to Sébastien Leban to document the two-week trip to France, which resulted in an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The sole-sourced contract was initially valued at up to $19,944. (The department initially said those amounts were in Euros but McKenna said that was an error on the part of her staff and the price tag is actually in Canadian dollars.)
The Ottawa-area MP said the images were disseminated by the department through social media channels such as Twitter. The image gallery from the conference posted to the department's Flickr account — which is followed by just 56 users — has been viewed roughly 1,200 times.
The disclosure of McKenna's expenses comes a week after Health Minister Jane Philpott faced questions about her use of a limousine service for trips throughout the Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara areas, which resulted in a bill to taxpayers of more than $3,700.
In response to a question placed on the order paper by Conservative MP Dan Albas about the use of limousines, Philpott's department initially supplied an answer categorically denying any of the luxury vehicles were rented. Staff later clarified that response after the expenses revelations saying the rented car was not a limo but rather a Lexus sedan.
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Philpott also expensed the cost of purchasing access to Air Canada's Maple Leaf Lounges, a pass that costs $560 a year. The health minister said Monday night she'd repay that money.
'Not the best use of public funds'
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to defend his ministers Tuesday at a separate infrastructure announcement in Toronto.
"We have seen over the course of the past months, have noticed many long-standing government policies that we are questioning and that's certainly one that we are looking at as perhaps not the best use of public funds," he said of the photography costs.
"We're moving forward with a reflection on a broad range of things that are government policy that we might need to move or tweak to suit the openness, transparency and expectations that Canadians have of this particular government."
The opposition Conservatives have been raising questions about Liberal expenses this week branding them excessive and saying they show a sign of entitlement.
During their time in office, the Conservatives faced questions of their own about photography expenses. An iPolitics investigation found that the former government of Stephen Harper spent more than $2.3 million to photograph Conservative cabinet ministers at various events during its time in office. For example, the photography bill for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird's week at the United Nations in 2014 cost $13,113.
The then-government commissioned outside photographers to record more than 2,483 events.
Below are a few of the photos shared by McKenna's department during the Paris climate conference:
Minister McKenna meets with reps of indigenous communities at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COP21?src=hash">#COP21</a>.<a href="https://twitter.com/ec_minister">@ec_minister</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/COP21Can?src=hash">#COP21Can</a> <a href="https://t.co/yem3Kk3F4C">pic.twitter.com/yem3Kk3F4C</a>—@environmentca