Toronto councillor explains why he stayed at a $900/night hotel in Los Angeles

Click to play video: 'Toronto Coun. Michael Thompson questioned about $75K travel expenses'
Toronto Coun. Michael Thompson questioned about $75K travel expenses
WATCH ABOVE: There are questions over the fiscal restraint of Councillor Michael Thompson. As chair of the City of Toronto's economic development committee, he spent more than $75,000 on travel in the past two years. He said it's money well spent. Shallima Maharaj reports – May 28, 2018

A Toronto city councillor facing scrutiny over high travel expenses — including a $900 a night stay at a Los Angeles hotel last year — is defending his spending as “the cost of doing business.”

“It’s a lot of money, but the returns are such that it is of great benefit to our residents, quite frankly,” Ward 37 Coun. Michael Thompson said on Monday.

“In order to create opportunities, one has to spend funds, and I’ve got to spend it appropriately.”

Thompson’s expenses were the subject of a Toronto Star story on Monday that claimed the Scarborough Centre councillor has spent more than 100 nights abroad on taxpayers’ dime within two years.

A City of Toronto report shows that last year, Thompson expensed $2,923 for a three-day film business mission to Los Angeles, which was also attended by Toronto’s mayor and a few dozen industry representatives. A city report indicates the mission cost $32,690 overall.

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READ MORE: Toronto mayor headed to Hollywood to drum up support for city’s film, TV industry

The Star reported, based on receipts, that Thompson’s stay at the ritzy Los Angeles Chateau Marmont during the film mission cost $919 per night.

In an interview with 640 Toronto host Tasha Kheiriddin on Monday, Thompson said the hotel bill was “the cost of doing business at the time.”

He said he stayed at the hotel because that’s where the mission was based and meetings were held.

“Apparently the cost was $688 U.S., which translated to … approximately $900 Canadian,” he said.

According to a city report posted online, Thompson expensed a total of $36,364 for 10 trips last year, exceeding the closest city councillor’s spending by over $15,000. By comparison, Toronto Mayor John Tory spent $14,167 on travel in 2017 overall.

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Most of Thompson’s trips last year — trade missions, conferences and meetings — were charged to the city’s Economic Development and Culture division, of which he is committee chair.

READ MORE: Lights, cameras, action: Toronto film, TV and digital industry topped $2B in 2016

Thompson said his work has helped attract more than $1.5 billion in investment to the city. He also defended the travel costs by pointing to over a billion dollars in growth experienced by Toronto’s film industry from 2010 to 2016.

“We’re there to support, promote and to ensure that our [film] industry continues to sustain itself and bring in the good jobs,” he said.

He said his travels also helped Toronto become the new host of a major tech conference, which would have an estimated economic impact of $147 million.

On May 1, it was revealed that Collision, which bills itself as North America’s fastest-growing tech conference with an anticipated 25,000 attendees, would be held in Toronto for three years starting in 2019.

In addition to the Los Angeles mission, in 2017 Thompson took city business trips to India and Sri Lanka, China, Miami, London, Paris, Frankfurt and Barcelona, Fort McMurray, Detroit, Lisbon and Barcelona, and he went to Ottawa twice.

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–With files from Shallima Maharaj, Global News

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