Mint chairman Jim Love expensed luxury trips with wife to global conferences

Travel records show Jim Love, whose term ended last year, took a boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef and had dinner at a crocodile farm at public expense, among other things.

In about-face, Crown corporation renounces policy that allowed the spending

The former chairperson of the Royal Canadian Mint expensed a pair of luxury overseas trips with his wife, including stays at five-star hotels and sightseeing in Austria and Australia, under a mint policy that allowed for networking junkets following major global conferences and for senior executives to take their spouses.

Toronto lawyer Jim Love flew business class with his wife, slept at Hyatt and Four Seasons hotels, and spent a day on a boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef and a night having dinner at a crocodile farm, according to travel receipts and conference programs.

Love, appointed chair of the mint's board of directors in 2009 by the Conservative government, billed the mint $44,566 for his and his wife's flights, hotels, taxis and meals for the two trips. His term ended last year.

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The Australia trip was to attend the 2010 Mint Directors Conference, one of the biggest international events in the minting industry, which attracts suppliers and clients from around the world. The Canadian mint says it sends members of its government-appointed board of directors abroad from time to time to such industry events "in order to meet with prospective customers, and also promote the mint's brand on a global level."

But after the convention was officially over, the mint sent the Loves on a post-conference group tour to Australia's tropical region, for which tickets cost $1,175 per person, according to the Australian Mint, which organized it. 

The Loves flew on Sept. 30, 2010, from Sydney to tropical Cairns, in northeast Australia, and spent three days there, according to travel records obtained by CBC's the fifth estate under access to information.

One of the dinners during the 2012 Vienna conference was held at the Hofburg Imperial Palace. (Getty)

They were joined by the mint's then-CEO, Ian Bennett, and his wife, who also enrolled in the tour — at a further cost to the Canadian Mint.

Activities included a daylong boat trip to Great Barrier Reef, with global mint-industry executives hanging out on deck in swimwear.

An official with the Australian mint, which organized the conference and subsequent tour, said the latter is "more about seeing the country but also allowing the networking opportunities." Michelle Nakamura said about 180 of the 400-plus mint industry personnel who attended the conference signed up for the tour.

Reached at his office in Toronto last week, Love, who was a close friend of the late former finance minister Jim Flaherty, would not agree to an interview about the 2010 trip.

In all, the Canadian mint sent at least seven people to Australia for the conference, of whom at least the Loves and Bennetts stayed afterwards for the sightseeing and networking. Total bill: more than $66,500.

Two years later, it was more of the same: Love and his wife attended the next Mint Directors Conference, in Vienna in 2012. They again went on the post-conference tour, a voyage by train through the Austrian countryside followed by a couple nights in Salzburg. The total bill for their business-class airfares and hotel stays during the conference: $21,967.

Mobile users, see airfare receipt here

The revelations about the Australia and Vienna trips come a week after Canada's auditor general delivered his latest findings on the expenses of senators, whose travel spending is facing a crackdown amid a series of ongoing scandals.

Yesterday, the the fifth estate also reported the Canadian mint paid for 11 of its staff, including four senior officers, to go on a three-day junket to a Caribbean beach resort following last year's Mint Directors Conference in Mexico City.  The mint arranged for four executives' spouses to go, too, though they cancelled for undetermined reasons.

Proponents say the trips by mint personnel are important for business, allowing the Crown corporation to woo potential clients and suppliers in a more casual setting that's conducive to drumming up sales. The Canadian mint in particular earns significant revenues manufacturing other countries' currency, and brought in $73 million last year producing coins, blanks and medallions for 15 foreign states.

"The program at the conferences is so tight, so there's not time whatsoever to set up a business meeting. So this is more the time that we do that," said Andrea Lang, sales director for the Austrian Mint, which hosted the 2012 conference. 

Mint revokes spousal travel

The Australia and Austria expenses appear to be in line with Royal Canadian Mint policies at the time. The mint allowed its directors to fly business class. And in mid-2010, it changed its rules to allow directors to take their spouses on business trips "where appropriate due to RCM's objectives, protocol or custom."

But it appears it was alone among its peers in making the move. Four other major national mints canvassed by CBC — in Australia, Austria, Britain and the United States — all said they do not allow spousal travel expenses.

And Canada's mint has since renounced the policy.

When CBC News began asking the mint questions about its travel expenses in early 2014, spokesperson Christine Aquino said it is "a business expectation … for officials within the minting industry to be accompanied by their spouse for important occasions such as the Mint Directors' Conference."

In recent weeks, however, it did not respond directly to further questions. Then on June 1, the mint went public about a major overhaul of its rules. In a statement to the CBC, it said spousal travel will no longer be permitted at all, nor any trips to post-conferences.

The mint said it was implementing the changes to meet the "expectations Canadians have of a Crown corporation."

Mint chairman expensed trips with wife

Send any tips about this story or anything related to federal expenses to investigations@cbc.ca or call Harvey Cashore at 416-526-4704. Contact the writer of this story at zach.dubinsky@cbc.ca