Sunday, September 21, 2008

Peter MacKay Caught 'Bending' the Rules

These Conservatives, they're just such an accountable bunch, aren't they?

Via the CP: Hospitality tab at Passport Canada costs taxpayers $16,800: document

The Canadian Press got it hands on a document that shows MacKay signing off on hospitality tab overruns for Passport Canada employees during the passport crunch last year.

Federal rules strictly govern hospitality expenses, especially when food and drink are provided free to civil servants.

The $16,800 hospitality tab - large, even by Ottawa's standards - was to buy lunches for 400 Passport Canada employees who were working weekends to cope with a crush of passport applications last year.

The government was caught off guard as record numbers of Canadians applied for passports to comply with tougher rules imposed by Washington for travellers entering the United States by air.

The employees had to work three weekends in a row to dig out from a massive backlog of applications.

Treasury Board rules allow civil servants to enjoy taxpayer-funded lunches if they're working outside of normal hours, although it's entirely at the discretion of a department. And if the cost is to exceed $5,000, it must be approved by the minister.

MacKay's approval came only after the civil servants had already chowed down on about $11,200 worth of free meals.

Peter Harder, then deputy minister of Foreign Affairs, alerted MacKay to the problem and asked for his approval as soon as possible "to minimize the amounts approved after the fact."

In a memo, Harder - who left the civil service for a law firm three days later - assured MacKay that "the positive aspect of reducing the operational backlog of passport applicants will far outweigh any public or media relations related to these hospitality expenses."

Shorter Harder: Just approve it. Canadians will get over it.

No thought given to the fact that they created the mess in the first place by agreeing to the paranoid and rushed provisions of the SPP.

A spokesman for Passport Canada did not respond to questions, including why the agency failed to seek the minister's permission before starting to provide the free lunches.

The hospitality tab does not appear in MacKay's or Harder's mandatory disclosure of such expenses on the Foreign Affairs website.


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