OTTAWA – The Conservative government abandoned the pricey car service for ministers at the Davos economic summit in Switzerland this year, but they still shelled out big bucks for parking.
Canadian taxpayers spent more than $2,300 in parking costs at January’s World Economic Forum, according to receipts obtained by the NDP under Access to Information.
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Both Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Trade Minister Ed Fast attended the annual four-day meeting in January.
The documents show the cost of parking three cars for five days cost taxpayers $2,331.20.
“It seems to be an extraordinary amount of money,” said NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus. “I don’t think this government is very good at protecting the taxpayer when it comes to trips overseas.”
Angus noted that Davos is a small resort village, and he questioned why cars were even necessary.
“Do we need to park the cars for $400 or $500 a day? I don’t know. I think these are questions that need to be asked so that we can ensure value for Canadians,” he said.
“This is a government that’s telling Canadians to tighten up the belt, telling senior citizens the cupboard is bare, you’re going to have to work longer. So when they go overseas they have to remember they’re still working for Canadians.”
Still, the parking costs are way cheaper than the alternative: the NDP obtained documents that showed the government spent just over $23,000 in 2012 at the forum on four rental vehicles to chauffeur four ministers around.
This year, the government didn’t rent cars, but borrowed them from embassies, said a spokeswoman for the department of foreign affairs.
“Embassy vehicles from different missions were used to support and provide transportation to the Canadian delegation in Davos, including transportation to and from the Zurich Airport,” Caitlin Workman wrote in an email.
“Parking spots were rented in Davos for the use of those embassy vehicles. This was the most cost-effective way to support the Canadian delegation.”
She didn’t elaborate on where the cars were parked, or who used them.
The total cost of vehicle expenses was 2,632 Swiss Francs, or $2,726.99 at an exchange rate of 1.03 to $1 at the time of payment.
In addition to $2,331.20 parking at a business called “U Torta Sagl,” the government spent $302.02 on gasoline, $43.00 for a road tax, $44.56 for car washes and $6.22 to park at a different location for about an hour.
Hiring a car and driver in Davos would have cost approximately 1,000 Swiss Francs a day, or $1,036 at the time.
The forum, which took place between Jan. 22 and 25, brought together 2,500 business people and politicians, including the heads of state from more than 30 countries. The meeting addressed “the challenges facing the world in 2014,” according to the forum’s website.
Fast and Baird planned to “highlight Canada’s free trade leadership and economic success” at the annual meeting, said a note posted on the department of foreign affairs website. Fast and Baird also co-hosted an event to “promote Canada as an investment destination of choice.”
Gregory Thomas, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation, said he finds it hard to believe parking spots can go for more than $150 a day.
“I really question whether Foreign Affairs did it’s homework this time in finding an economical place to put the vehicles,” he said.
“It’s less than two hours from Zurich, they have shuttle buses going every 10 minutes. They obviously decided to go in style.”