Rideau Hall says GG 'shares the public's concern' about $93K catering bill

Rideau Hall says Gov. Gen. Mary Simon shares the public's concerns about a $93,000-plus catering bill racked up on a government plane during a work trip in March to the Middle East.

Canada's military is responsible for flights and catering on Governor General's working visits abroad

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon takes part in an interview with CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton. (Mathieu Thériault/CBC)

Rideau Hall says Gov. Gen. Mary Simon shares the public's concerns about a $93,000-plus catering bill racked up on a government plane during a work trip in March to the Middle East.

Simon's office said the Canadian Armed Forces is responsible for the Governor General's flights during her working visits abroad and is "responsible for all decisions relating to catering on these flights."

"The Governor General shares the public's concern in regards to expenses and looks forward to further clarity from responsible departments such as DND and GAC," wrote Rideau Hall spokesperson Natalie Babin Dufresne in a statement to CBC News.

CBC News has asked both the Department of National Defence and Global Affairs Canada for an explanation and a detailed breakdown of the catering bill, but has not yet received a response. 

A recently released answer to an order paper question from Conservative MP Michael Barrett revealed the price tag from eight days of travel for Simon and her delegation on a Royal Canadian Air Force plane.

The catering costs include the "cost of food, non-alcoholic beverages and associated fees, including catering handling and delivery, storage, cleaning and disposal of international waste, airport taxes, administrative fees, security charges, and local taxes," says the document.

Prince Charles shakes hands with Gov. Gen Mary Simon while attending the Order of Military Merit Investiture Ceremony on the second day of the Canadian 2022 Royal Tour in Ottawa in May. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

The answer to the order paper question says the $93,117.89 catering bill is associated with a multi-stage March 16-24 journey that started in Canada, stopped in London to pick up Simon after her audience with the Queen, then carried on to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait.

The plane then stopped again in London before landing in Ottawa and then parking at the military's base in Trenton, Ontario.

Simon and 29 other people — including her staff, Global Affairs employees and Canadian delegates — were aboard the plane, according to the document released in the House of Commons. That figure doesn't include RCMP officers and air crew members who also may have eaten on the flights.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Simon to travel to the Middle East to strengthen bilateral relations by meeting with Canada's ambassadors, heads of state and other senior leaders. Simon was also a guest of honour at Canada's National Day at Expo 2020 in Dubai, which was delayed for two years due to the pandemic.

Simon also met with Canadian Armed Forces members deployed in the region while visiting the Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait and Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

"The Governor General undertakes official and state visits abroad only on request by the Prime Minister, and in support of Canada's international diplomatic objectives," wrote Babin Dufresne.

Queen Elizabeth welcomes Gov. Gen. Canada Mary Simon and her husband Whit Fraser for tea in the Oak Room at Windsor Castle in Windsor, U.K., earlier this year. (Steve Parsons/The Associated Press)

For security reasons, it's normal protocol for the Governor General to fly aboard the Royal Canadian Air Force's CC-150 Polaris aircraft. The trip was Simon's second visit abroad since being appointed the Queen's representative to Canada in July 2021.

Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc, who is responsible for democratic institutions, said he had no idea about the catering costs and had no involvement in the choice of menus.

"I have no idea the context of these flights or how these things are done," LeBlanc told CBC News on his way into caucus Wednesday morning.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Tuesday in French that the Governor General would have to explain the catering bill. 

The National Post first reported on the catering costs on Tuesday.


Ashley Burke

Senior reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa who focuses on enterprise journalism for television, radio and digital platforms. She was recognized with the Charles Lynch Award and was a finalist for the Michener Award for her exclusive reporting on the toxic workplace at Rideau Hall. She has also uncovered rampant allegations of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military involving senior leaders. You can reach her confidentially by email: ashley.burke@cbc.ca or https://www.cbc.ca/securedrop/