MPs, senators increase spending on foreign travel, hosting guests by 30% this year
Cost for hosting visiting delegations and travelling abroad increases to $4.5M
MPs and senators are on track to spend $4.5 million to meet with their parliamentary counterparts around the globe this fiscal year — $1 million more than was spent last year.
According to information on the calendar of events for parliamentary associations, the groups of MPs and senators tasked with promoting Canada's interests abroad, the $4.5 million will cover at least 134 meetings. It means hosting a number of visiting legislators from around the world in Canada and funding at least 69 trips abroad by delegations of Canadian MPs and senators.
Canadian parliamentarians have travelled to France, China and Portugal and are planning to visit cities such as Washington, Las Vegas and Kingston, Jamaica, according to the list of scheduled trips.
Last year these groups took 83 trips at a cost to taxpayers of more than $3.5 million. That was the largest number of trips abroad in five years, according to Colette Labrecque-Riel, the director general of international and interparliamentary affairs in the House of Commons.
Labrecque-Riel presented the latest 2016-2017 expenditures to the Board of Internal Economy (BOIE) , the governing body of the House of Commons, on Nov. 2.
She disclosed the information under new rules governing the formerly secretive BOIE. Previously, details on the spending were kept under tight wraps, but some meetings are now televised and transcripts are publicly released.
Labrecque-Riel says the number of activities increased last year and used up 98 per cent of the budget. That's "somewhat unheard of" for associations, she said, noting that activities were "significantly higher" than in previous years.
Canadian parliamentary associations are required to pay membership fees to take part in meetings held by international organizations. Those fees represent a large part of the total budget for parliamentary travel. In 2016-2017 membership fees took up $1.3 million of the $3.5 million budget.
Labrecque-Riel told BOIE members that six of the 13 parliamentary associations are required to pay membership fees to be invited to global meetings. Those with the highest fees include the Canadian Group of Inter-Parliamentary Union, which promotes democratic values and Canadian interests, and the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association.
"If we do not pay them, we do not participate," Labrecque-Riel said.
Even though there are fewer trips scheduled this year, the associations asked for and received an additional $1 million in permanent funding on April 1, 2017.
"The trend began last fiscal year in terms of the increasing number of activities and the ways that associations were utilizing additional funding. And the trend has been maintained and increased in the first six months of this fiscal year," Labrecque-Riel said.
The Joint Interparliamentary Council is the committee that allocates funds for the associations. The co-chair, Conservative MP Bruce Stanton, told CBC in an email that the increase in trips could be due to several factors. Those factors include a general increase interest in diplomacy among MPs and senators, and and a need to engage with the U.S. on issues like NAFTA renegotiations.
Extra funding denied
At the same BOIE meeting, a request was made for an additional $313,000 for three more staff members to handle the increase in association activities, but the extra money was not approved.
"Maybe we should scale back the travel a bit in order not to overwork the staff who are currently there," Conservative MP Candice Bergen said in the meeting.
NDP BOIE member Peter Julian says the associations already received a permanent $1 million increase. He said he is not comfortable approving $313,000 more.
"They have had a substantial increase in their funding. They have to make sure they are doing the appropriate administration and hiring," he said.
The Joint Interparliamentary Council can now go back to its members and reevaluate and resubmit a new funding proposal to the BOIE.