Who pays? New guide sets out rules for Trudeau travels, nannies

The prime minister's trips with family, nannies, guests and others raise complex questions about who travels free. A new guidebook tries to answer those questions, especially for personal trips.

Trudeau's frequent travels with family, nannies and other entourage prompts new rule book about costs

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his son Xavier near Yavoriv, Ukraine, earlier this month. A new government rulebook sets out when the Trudeau kids travel free and when the prime minister must pick up costs. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Justin Trudeau's frequent trips abroad — often with an entourage of family, nannies, officials and guests — raise tricky questions about who travels on the public dime and who does not.

So the government recently "formalized" the rules, setting out who digs into their own pockets for travel expenses and who gets their bills picked up by taxpayers.

One unexpected disclosure in the four-page guideline document, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act, is the extent to which public money can underwrite the prime minister's personal travels, such as vacations or trips for the Liberal party.

The travel costs and salaries of a "residential staff member" — a code word for caregiver — are eligible to be picked up by the government during the family's private travel, for example:

Trudeau arrives for a state visit in Washington, D.C., with his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, left, and their children Xavier James, Ella-Grace and Hadrien in March. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

"In addition, if a residential staff member is asked by the prime minister to accompany his or her family on personal travel as part of their duties, the government of Canada will cover the travel-related costs, if requested."

Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, have three young children, Xavier, Ella-Grace and Hadrien, who sometimes join them on trips. Xavier, for example, recently accompanied his father for an official trip to Poland and Ukraine. The kids have also travelled to London and Washington with their parents.

A spokesman says Trudeau has never requested the government pay airfare for a caregiver that accompanies the family on personal trips, even though the rules allow it.

"As per long-standing government policy and for security reasons, specific arrangements (on government aircraft, for example) must be made for the prime minister when he travels, whether on official or personal business," Olivier Duchesneau said in an email.

"As was the case with previous prime ministers, when travelling for personal reasons, the prime minister pays a fair market value of an economy airfare for himself, members of his family, and any residential staff member that travel with him. The prime minister will continue to do that."   

The guidelines also show the government pays for travelling staff members from the Privy Council Office's tour-support section "to ensure basic administrative support and secure communications capacities for the prime minister during his personal travel."

Access to secure communications

In addition, one aide from the Prime Minister's Office is allowed to travel to "support" Trudeau on personal trips, again on the government dime.

The principle is that the prime minister must have access to secure communications at all times, even during vacations, to respond effectively to crises, such as the recent attempted coup in Turkey.

Privy Council Office spokeswoman Regine Beauplan says staff provide support during all travel by the prime minister, including "the creation of a temporary satellite equipped office that provides access to the secure equipment he needs to carry out his duties."

The RCMP is responsible for all ground transportation if the Trudeau family travels for personal reasons, the guidelines say, and the government pays the entire bill without seeking reimbursement.

Unless they are part of the official delegation for an international trip, the prime minister will personally be responsible for paying the cost of meals and incidentals for each child …- 2016 guidelines on prime ministerial travel

For security, the prime minister and family fly on government aircraft even for personal trips, usually a Challenger jet for short hauls and an Airbus A310 for longer jaunts.

For those private trips, the prime minister and travellers reimburse the government for the equivalent commercial economy airfare, almost always much less than the actual cost of military crew and planes.

Trudeau's family took a 10-day resort vacation in St. Kitts and Nevis over the New Year's holidays, flying on a government Challenger jet that remained on standby. Trudeau said he would reimburse the equivalent of economy fares, but the trip is estimated to have cost the military almost $50,000, including crew costs.

For travel on government business, the rules generally state that official delegations — the prime minister and any others formally invited by a foreign government — are fully covered for all travel expenses. That includes the children, if they make it onto the official list.

Nannies, kids' travel

If the children aren't on the official delegation list, they can fly for free only if there's room on the plane. Meals are another matter:

"Unless they are part of the official delegation for an international trip, the prime minister will personally be responsible for paying the costs of meals and incidentals for each child travelling with the prime minister during government business."

The complex guidelines, codified in a Feb. 24, 2016, memo approved by the clerk of the Privy Council, "were formalized to reflect government practice," said spokesman Raymond Rivet.

The prime minister's nannies made headlines in December when CBC News revealed a cabinet order authorizing the hiring of two child-care workers on the public payroll. During the 2015 election campaign, Trudeau had said "wealthy families" like his did not need help from taxpayers for child care.

One of two nannies, Marilou Trayvilla, top right, with the Trudeau family before she was terminated in June. A new rule book says the prime minister can request public money to pay for nannies who travel with the family on private vacations. But a spokesman for Trudeau says he has always paid for nanny travels on these personal trips, and will continue to do so. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

At the time, Trudeau spokeswoman Kate Purchase said: "Like all families of prime ministers, a small number of staff provide assistance. Given the nature of the prime minister's responsibilities and his young family, the Trudeaus employ two household employees who, in addition to performing other duties around the house, act as secondary caregivers to the three children."

In June this year, one of the two nannies was terminated. A spokesperson said the Trudeaus replaced the employee with someone they hired and paid out of their own funds.

The family lives rent-free in Rideau Cottage, a large government-owned residence on the grounds of Rideau Hall, while officials review how to update and refurbish the official residence at 24 Sussex Drive.

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter


Dean Beeby

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Bureau

Dean Beeby is a CBC journalist, author and specialist in freedom-of-information laws. Follow him on Twitter: @DeanBeeby


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