Taxpayers footed bill for $4.5M in trips by MP spouses, partners over last 4 years
Canadian taxpayers footed the bill for $4.5 million worth of travel across the country for the spouses of members of Parliament over the last four years.
Those costs come through the use of what’s known as designated travellers — individuals with whom MPs can share their privilege of expenses-paid travel when the designated traveller represents the MP at an event or when the family is being reunited.
Global News dug into the data made public through members’ expenditure reports, which detail how much each member of Parliament claimed in travel expenses for their designated traveller over the last four fiscal years.
Those costs do not include allowances for transporting children, who are classified as dependents.
As might be expected given the high cost of travel in Canada, the top six claimants with the highest designated traveller expenses are from Western Canada.
Of those six, all but one are Conservatives.
The top claimant was Todd Doherty, the Conservative MP for Cariboo–Prince George in northern B.C. He claimed a total of $142,236 in travel expenses for his wife over the last four years.
In second place was Conservative MP David Yurdiga, who represents Fort McMurray–Cold Lake. He claimed $137,422 for the cost of his wife’s travel.
Watch: Taxpayers footed bill for $4.5M in trips by MP spouses
Wilson-Raybould came in third, claiming $125,754 for trips by her husband between Vancouver and Ottawa — roughly triple the costs claimed by her highest-claiming former cabinet colleague from the same metro Vancouver area.
The MP with the fourth-highest claim for designated traveller expenses was Mel Arnold, Conservative MP for North Okanagan–Shuswap. He claimed $121,138 for his wife, while Conservative Cathy McLeod, who represents Kamloops–Thompson–Cariboo, claimed $110,035 and sits in fifth place.
Mark Warawa, the late Conservative MP for Langley–Aldergrove, ranked sixth.
WATCH: Jody Wilson-Raybould reacts to report on spousal travel expenses
All other total claims by members of Parliament fell below $100,000 over four years.
Eleven MPs claimed designated traveller expenses between $50,000 and $99,000.
Six of those were Conservatives, four were Liberals and one was an NDP.
Among them were Liberal MP Yvonne Jones from Labrador, who claimed $92,579, as well as the late Conservative Calgary Forest Lawn MP Deepak Obhrai, who claimed $83,108, and Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall, who claimed $81,631 in travel for her husband from Yorkton–Melville in Saskatchewan.
The vast majority claimed under $50,000, while a total of 57 claimed no expenses at all for designated travellers.
Those included Vancouver East NDP MP Jenny Kwan, Edmonton–Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan, Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister and University–Rosedale MP Chrystia Freeland and Sarnia–Lambton Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu.
What is a designated traveller?
The designated traveller program operates under the same system that covers the costs of members of Parliament travelling back and forth between their ridings or to other specific locations, such as Washington and New York City, as needed for their parliamentary roles.
Members of Parliament get a certain number of what are known as travel points to cover the cost of their work-related travel — one point equals one round trip between their riding and Ottawa, or Ottawa and another location associated with their parliamentary work.
Members of Parliament can share those points with another person — their designated traveller.
In most cases, this is the member of Parliament’s spouse or another relative (though it does not have to be a family member) and designating the person as such lets the person use some of those points to expense the cost of their own travel.
This is allowed in cases where the designated traveller represents the MP at an event or where travel is to reunite the member of Parliament with their family, and under the system, the designated traveller can fly in business class on flights longer than two hours.
But the program has come under scrutiny in the past because of the costs associated with transporting unelected individuals on the taxpayer dime.
One example of that was when former Conservative defence minister Jason Kenney expensed a $6,000 flight for his mother from Calgary to Ottawa.
How do the total costs compare to past years?
While the total figure of $4.5 million over four years might seem steep, the yearly breakdown of those expenses largely fits within the ranges seen in previous years under the Conservative government.
According to yearly totals, taxpayers paid the most in fiscal 2016-17 for the travel costs of MP spouses and other designated travellers: $1.32 million.
The runner-up was fiscal 2018-19 when taxpayers paid out $1.26 million for designated travellers.
The cost was $1.17 million in fiscal 2017-18.
For fiscal 2015-16, the total cost for designated traveller expenses was lower at $803,081.
That total included MPs newly elected as of October 2015 as well as the fiscal year totals for MPs who held their seats — it did not include MPs who lost their seats in the election.
In 2014-15, that cost was $1.2 million, while in 2013-14, it was $1.5 million.
It hit $2.2 million in 2012-13.
Aaron Wudrick, federal director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said he’s pleased to see the claims are staying largely level.
“I was pleased to see that the numbers are pretty much in line historically. We could debate whether we could save more money but at least we’re not seeing this trend where every year it’s getting more and more expensive,” he said.
But Wudrick added he would like to see a rule in place requiring designated travellers to use economy class.
“I think an economy class rule is a good one to have,” he said.
“Taxpayers are already paying the way for these people — to give them an even bigger benefit could start to get very expensive.”
Global News’ Max Hartshorn contributed reporting for this article.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the names of MPs David Yurdiga and Cathay Wagantall as well as the riding of Edmonton-Strathcona.
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