Liberals spend $150K over 2 years to fly in stakeholders for announcements

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(ABC TODAY) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has spent more than $150,000 to bring people from across the country to participate in government announcements, according to documents tabled in Parliament.

Half that tab  $76,431 was spent on one event: to bring 43 family members and loved ones to the August 2016 launch of the inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls.

Bringing the families of astronauts and kids who wanted to be astronauts to appear at Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa last July cost another $17,323.

The results provide a glimpse into the importance the Trudeau government places on having stakeholders take part in priority announcements.

Like the previous Stephen Harper government, the Liberals also pay a lot of attention to image, and that includes having people affected by government announcements or legislation on stage or in the audience when key announcements are made.

In the case of the launch of the MMIW inquiry, flying participants to the announcement was also about reconciliation, said Martine Stevens, spokeswoman from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

“Canada is committed to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples,” she said in an e-mail. “The inquiry is an important step on this path to end the unacceptable rates of violence against indigenous women and girls. Involving survivors and family members and honouring lost ones has been central to this reconciliation process.”

Families also received a briefing about the inquiry’s terms of reference and had an opportunity to question minister Carolyn Bennett.

Shania Twain and 2 budding astronauts

Canadian country pop singer Shania Twain introduces two would-be young astronauts, Sahana Khatri of Vaudreuil, Que., left, and Juliet Munn-Lenz of Grand Prairie, Alta., on Canada Day 2017, before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the two newest members of the Canadian Space Agency. (ABC TODAY)

When the Canadian Space Agency decided to unveil new astronauts Jenni Sidey and Joshua Kutryk on Canada Day, it paid for their families to travel to Ottawa and then to a second event in St. Hubert, Que., south of Montreal. It also decided to include two of the younger “applicants,” Juliet Munn-Lenz, 5, and Sahana Khatri, 8, in the Canada Day announcement.

“We decided to feature the two girls in the campaign and invited them to be part of the announcement event on Parliament Hill on July 1st, so they could in turn inspire young children,” said Julie Simard, manager of strategic communications for the space agency.

“Given they are minors, they had to be accompanied by a parent.”

Simard said the St. Hubert event on July 4 was coupled with meetings and briefings for the new astronauts and their families.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) spent $36,446 for announcements to hand out awards and bring stakeholders to its annual Top Researchers Celebration.

Another granting organization, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) spent one third that amount  $10,231  to bring 10 stakeholders to Ottawa for its Impact Award Ceremony and its Storytellers Contest in November 2015.

The Department of National Defence spent $4,000 to bring two members of the Prime Minister’s Youth Council — Lauren Kennedy and François-Olivier Picard — to the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference in Vancouver in November 2017.

“We recognize the importance of engaging Canadian youth, who have a different yet important perspective on national issues and are the future of our country,” said defence spokesman Daniel Lebouthillier.

Military Suicide 20171005

Invited veterans and members of the Canadian Forces listen as, from left, Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan and MP Sherry Romanado participate in a press conference on a joint suicide prevention strategy, in Ottawa last October. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Status of Women Canada spent $4,263 in 2016 and 2017 to bring stakeholders to three government announcements. Spokeswoman Valérie Haché said the participants also participated in round tables and meetings.

The lowest tab, $1,908, was for Veterans Affairs, which brought representatives of three organizations to Ottawa for Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s announcement of a suicide prevention strategy for veterans and members of the military.

Most government departments and agencies didn’t report any spending to bring people to government press conferences and announcements.

Whether or not the spending is legitimate depends largely on the role the government is asking the stakeholders to play, said Aaron Wudrick of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“If it’s just to appear in a picture with politicians, it’s probably not money well spent. If it is for actual, substantive discussion, I think there’s stronger case.”

Wudrick said bringing family members of murdered and missing indigenous women to the launch of the inquiry was a legitimate use of government money.

It is not known how much Harper’s Conservative government spent on transporting stakeholders to news conferences. The order paper question posed by Conservative MP Ziad Aboultaif only asks for the amount spent since Trudeau’s government came to power.

Although the question that prompted the documents tabled in the House came from one of their MPs, the Conservatives declined to comment on the results.

Jean-Luc Ferland, spokesman for Treasury Board President Scott Brison, said the trips followed the government’s travel rules.

“Our government engages with a wide range of stakeholders and organizations from across the country to develop policy that improves the lives of all Canadians. It has been a longstanding practice of governments to cover travel costs when necessary.”