Politics

Philpott bills taxpayers $520 for access to Air Canada executive lounge

The controversy surrounding Health Minister Jane Philpott's travel expenses grew on Monday as evidence surfaced that she billed taxpayers $520 for access to Air Canada's executive airport lounges in North America and Europe.

Minister's office says Philpott will repay the Air Canada fee in full

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott, right, and her Chief of Staff Genevieve Hinse, left, arrive for the Liberal cabinet retreat in Sudbury, Ont., on Monday, August 22, 2016. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The controversy surrounding Health Minister Jane Philpott's travel expenses grew on Monday as evidence surfaced that she billed taxpayers $520 for access to Air Canada's executive airport lounges in North America and Europe.

The Opposition Conservatives, who produced a receipt for her lounge membership, said she should repay the money.

"This trend of excess and entitlement on the part of this minister and the government basically is continuing," Conservative health critic Colin Carrie said in an interview.

"It is another example of the minister's lack of judgment and disrespect for the Canadian taxpayer."

Aaron Wudrick, the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, also called for a refund.

"The things that are reasonable expenses are things that are directly related to their job," he said.

"I cannot see what the possible connection would be between her needing lounge access and ability to do her job."

Philpott's office said the minister will reimburse the Air Canada fee in full. 

"I have already directed my office ‎to review my expenses," the minister told CBC News. "Any expense that is found to be inappropriate will be reimbursed in full. I apologize and we will take steps to ensure this does not happen again."

Last week, Philpott said she would repay $3,700 in high-end car service costs after it was revealed she billed for $1,700 on one day and more than $1,900 on another day.

The minister's department is also reviewing 20 trips to Toronto Pearson International Airport that cost a total of $3,815 to see if taxpayers were charged fair-market value.

The car service — used to take the minister between work events — was provided by a limo company owned by a volunteer who canvassed for Philpott in the last election.

Pattern of entitlement?

NDP MP Charlie Angus said he is concerned about what could be a pattern of entitlement.

"It is still early days, so we have to see whether these patterns are going to form into something," Angus said.

"What concerns me is this sense of entitlement right off the bat. She doesn't have access to the executive lounge so taxpayers should pay the $500 so she can go sit and have a free drink and get ... taco chips. I think that attitude is of concern and it raises red flags."

Angus said he is also concerned about the overall handling of the issue by the prime minister.

"He said they were going to do government differently," he said.

"We are not asking ministers to bring bag lunches but these kinds of expenses, they're really not necessary."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made his first public remarks about the spending controversy in Sudbury, Ont. on Monday.

"This situation was a reminder for all of us to be extremely careful about our expenses and about the public trust that we wield," Trudeau said standing in front of his cabinet including Philpott.

Wudrick said his watchdog group welcomes the prime minister's statement, but he said "talk is cheap" and words need to be followed by action.

with files from CBC News

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