Politics

GG's office had no role in controversial catering bill, military says

Canada's military says the Governor General's office had no role in decisions related to a controversial catering bill for a recent official trip and says it takes steps to minimize the cost of in-flight food services.

Military says it tries to minimize meal costs but catering services are available only from select providers

Rideau Hall said Wednesday that Gov. Gen. Mary Simon shares the public's concerns and wants clarity from the government about the in-flight catering bill for a recent trip to the Middle East. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

The military says the Office of the Governor General had no role in decisions related to a controversial catering bill for a recent official trip and insists it takes steps to minimize the cost of in-flight food services.

In a statement issued to media outlets, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Department of National Defence (DND) said the catering tab for Gov. Gen. Mary Simon's trip to the Middle East in March came in $12,750 lower than originally quoted in documents released this week.

The answer to a Conservative MP's order paper question had said more than $93,117 was spent on catering in-flight meals during an 8-day working trip that included stops in London, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait.

The military now says that figure was the price originally estimated and the actual tab came to $80,367. The military also said the catering bill was for "meals, delivery and handling of the catering to the flight" for 29 passengers, plus 17 members of the flight crew and security detail.

"Although we endeavour to minimize meal costs at all times, catering services are only available from select providers as defined by various airports and local authorities, with costs that are fixed by these vendors," wrote DND spokesperson Daniel Le Bouthillier.

"The exchange rate for the Canadian dollar influences costs as well."

CBC News asked DND and Global Affairs Canada for a breakdown of the costs and providers, along with copies of the menus. That information has not been provided by either department yet.

Rideau Hall said Wednesday that Simon shares the public's concerns about the catering bill and wants more clarity from the government departments involved in the decision.

Simon's office also said the trip to the Middle East was requested by the prime minister to support Canada's international diplomatic objectives. 

For security reasons, it's protocol for the Governor General to fly aboard the Royal Canadian Air Force's CC-150 Polaris aircraft. The statement from DND and CAF said all decisions related to catering are made in tandem with Global Affairs Canada's office of protocol.

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon's working visit to the Middle East was her second trip abroad since being appointed the Queen's representative to Canada in July 2021. Simon is pictured here with her husband Whit Fraser. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press )

The military said that it can prepare meals in advance for CC-144 Challenger flights taking off from Ottawa using ingredients from local grocery stores, or obtain meals from "local restaurants ... on rare occasions," to cut down on costs. But it can't do the same with international flights.

"This is typically a very economical means of providing in-flight meals, but it is limited to flights departing from Ottawa," wrote Le Bouthillier.

The DND/CAF statement also said that when alcoholic beverages are served onboard government planes, the military does not pay for them.

$114 bill for in-flight alcohol

Global Affairs Canada confirms that $114 was spent on alcoholic beverages during the flights to and from the Middle East. Nineteen bottles of wine and 15 cans of beer were served onboard the military aircraft, according to the answer to an order paper question from Conservative MP Scot Davidson. 

The National Post first reported on the catering bill and the cost of alcohol served.

Defence Minister Anita Anand told CBC News Wednesday that "fiscal responsibility is critical."

"I believe deeply in the importance of prudence," said Anand. "I don't have comment on that specific issue that you're raising, but I will say that across the board, I believe in fiscal responsibility."

In question period Thursday, Conservative MP Michael Barrett took aim at the Liberal government over the catering bill. He pointed to media reports of Canadians unable to afford groceries or air conditioning due to inflation and accused the government of operating with a sense of entitlement.

"What we're asking from this government is to take a reality check," said Barrett. "When will they put their entitlements aside and put Canadians first?"

Minister of Tourism and Associate Minister of Finance Randy Boissonnault responded, accusing the Conservatives of wanting to "shred" government efforts to offer daycare services for $10 per day nationwide.

"In Toronto alone, a family will save $19,790 a year that will afford groceries and gas, Mr. Speaker, and we're doing this across the country," he said. 

Global Affairs Canada has not yet responded to CBC's request for comment, which was submitted on Wednesday.

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