Harper's baseball trip hit taxpayers with $45,000 tab

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Labour Day-weekend trip to Manhattan last fall, which included coveted tickets to a New York Yankees game and a Broadway show, cost Canadian taxpayers at least $45,000, documents reveal.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in the white shirt and khakis, signs an autograph for a baseball fan at Yankee Stadium last fall. (Tom Murro )

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Labour Day-weekend trip to Manhattan last fall, which included coveted tickets to a New York Yankees game and a Broadway show, cost Canadian taxpayers at least $45,000, documents reveal.

Documents obtained under Access to Information reveal only some of the trip's cost. They include $34,633 for the use of the Challenger Jet and another $11,026 for the expenses of four staffers who joined the prime minister during the private family trip.

However, government officials have declined to provide CBC News with other costs linked to the trip last September, such as expenses incurred by the prime minister, two more aides and a defence attaché who took part in the three-day excursion.

Costs were not provided related to the RCMP officers who accompanied the prime minister on this personal trip. RCMP officials say the documents detailing those expenses can’t be released because they contain sensitive information that could affect security and the conduct of international affairs. RCMP are required to accompany Harper for security reasons even on personal travels.

The flight manifests show there were nine passengers on the government jet. They included:

  • The prime minister.
  • Jeremy Hunt, his executive assistant.
  • Jason Ransom, his official photographer.
  • Sara MacIntyre, his press secretary.
  • Veronica Gerson, a PMO special assistant for tours.
  • A DND warrant officer.

The prime minister's office did not offer an explanation about the role of these staffers on the trip.

Also on the manifest are the prime minister's daughter, Rachel Harper, and two people identified as "Ms. Guarsico," who were guests on the trip.

Harper reimbursed government for flight

A spokesperson for the prime minister told CBC News that Harper covered the cost of both the flight and accommodations for himself, his daughter and two guests on the flight. He also covered the costs of tickets to the game for himself and his guests.

"Prime Minister Harper makes it a practice of reimbursing the government for personal travel," spokesperson Julie Vaux wrote in an email. "As the prime minister is prohibited from flying commercial for security reasons, he also compensates the government for the cost of an equivalent commercial flight. In this case, he compensated for the flight for himself, his daughter, and guests at the cost of a commercial fare for each."

The PMO did not release how much Harper reimbursed the government for the cost of four commercial flights. While those payments for equivalent commercial air travel would have offset the total cost of the trip, they would not have equalled the expenses incurred by three other staffers — Sara MacIntyre, Jason Ransom and Warrant Officer Wilson — and the unknown number of RCMP officers who accompanied the prime minister and who also incurred expenses.

DND flight manifests for the Challenger on the weekend of Sept. 2 show it flew 3.3 hours in total: 1.2 hours from Ottawa to Teterboro airport near Manhattan, 0.9 hours from Teterboro to White Plains airport in New York State and 1.2 hours from White Plains back to Ottawa.

DND estimates the flying costs of the Challenger at $10,495 per flying hour in 2011-12. 

CBC News obtained expense filings for Gerson and Hunt. Expense filings were also released for Andre Picard and Todd Pilon, two Privy Council Office staffers who took commercial flights to New York before the prime minister arrived.

Picard and Pilon are listed in the government directory as PCO technicians "for tours and multimedia." Both men stayed an extra night, flying down Thursday and leaving on Monday.

All four of these expense filings show the staffers stayed at the New York Intercontinental Hotel in Times Square, where the price per person including taxes was about $400 U.S. a night. Their total expense filings not counting flights averaged about $2,100 per person.

In an appendix to his expense filing, Pilon explained the decision to stay at the hotel in a document entitled, "Privy Council Office Checklist for Travel."

The checklist asks several questions designed to ensure the lowest possible costs, including:

"Are economical and efficient alternatives being considered such as teleconferencing, videoconferencing, or any other?"  Answer: "No. This is not up to us as we respond directly to PMO request for trips."

"Are travel/hospitality/conference expenses being provided at the lowest possible cost?" Pilon’s answer: "No. Normally yes with the exception of the selection of hotels as this is decided by the PMO."


This story has been edited from an earlier version to clarify that while reimbursement of the equivalent value of four commercial airline tickets would have reduced the total cost of the trip to the taxpayer, the payment would be more than offset by the expenses incurred by staff members on the trip whose expenses were not disclosed by the PMO.