Politics

Lavish Canada House reopening in London cost taxpayers more than $200K

Invoices obtained by CBC News show a gala reopening of Canada House, Ottawa's diplomatic mission in London, generated bills of more than $200,000. The red-carpet event included a set of ceremonial keys for the Queen made of pewter, not gold as originally advertised, for $1,500.

Invitations to splashy event in February cost more than $10,000, 'gold' pewter keys $1,500

Queen Elizabeth II is saluted as she leaves a ceremony to reopen Canada House, following an extensive program of restoration and refurbishment. With her is former foreign affairs minister John Baird. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Pool/Associated Press)

As the Harper government was tightening its belt to wipe out the federal deficit, officials at Canada House in London, England, spared no expense on a splashy re-opening fit for a queen.

Internal invoices for the Feb. 19 posh event on Trafalgar Square show taxpayers were billed more than $200,000 for a few hours of wine-sipping, beef-eating and plaque-unveiling, as well as a set of complimentary keys for Queen Elizabeth II, the guest of honour, and Prince Philip.

Records obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act show:

  • Canadian wine sent by sea to London for the event cost $9,716 in shipping.
  • A breakfast buffet cost almost $2,400, while cases of Canadian ribeye beef came in at $1,273.
  • Printing of 3,000 fancy invitations for the reopening rang in at $10,606.
  • Six commemorative keys billed by Foreign Affairs as "made of Canadian gold" were actually made of pewter with "antique" gold, silver and nickel finishes — and a price tag of $1,470.
  • The four Mounties in red tunics who added a dash of romance that day racked up $4,745 in London hotel bills.
  • And a commemorative Canada House publication was invoiced at a whopping $46,296 for printing.

A spokesman for Foreign Affairs, Nicolas Doire, confirmed the affair cost taxpayers about $209,000, not including donated goods from Canadian firms.

Canada House was first opened in 1925 by the Queen's grandfather as the former colony's elegant diplomatic outpost in Britain, and is currently headed by High Commissioner Gordon Campbell. The structure has since undergone a massive refit and restoration, paid for in part from the $562.5-million sale of another Canadian diplomatic property in London, Macdonald House, in 2014.

Highlights from ceremony, high commissioner tours with the CBC's Catherine Cullen 2:11

Baird listed as minister

A surprise guest-host at the lavish Feb. 19 event this year was MP John Baird, who had quit his job as foreign affairs minister on Feb. 3.

Baird is erroneously listed as foreign affairs minister on a $16,000 bronze plaque, dated Feb. 19, that was unveiled by the Queen that day, even though he had left the post more than two weeks earlier. Baird's name is immortalized between those of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Campbell.

Former Foreign Affairs minister John Baird's name appears on a plaque at Canada House, commemorating its rededication by the Queen in February. (Catherine Cullen/CBC)

Officials say the order was made to Britannia Architectural Metalwork Ltd. before Baird's resignation and could not be changed in time.

Rick Roth, once Baird's spokesperson, said on Twitter that day his former boss "paid his own way" to the London event, which Doire confirmed in an email: "Mr. Baird did not expense his trip to the U.K. to take part in Canada House opening events."

Some costs for the event were picked up by Canadian firms, including the wineries Andrew Peller Ltd. and Pillitten Estates, who together donated 1,084 bottles. The documents note the wine was "diplomatic cargo" and therefore exempt from British value-added tax.

Heritage Angus Beef donated about $960 of Canadian ribeye. Air travel for the four Mounties was provided gratis by Air Canada. The High Commission picked up their per diems and accommodation costs, for a total of about $8,600.

The day's activities included the Queen's visit in the morning, an afternoon reception and a dinner.

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter

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