OTTAWA — Federal politicians who’ve been jetting in style around the globe have had their wings clipped.
The proposed budgets for thirteen parliamentary friendship associations — which send dozens of MPs and senators on coveted trips to exotic locales each year, all at taxpayers’ expense — have been rejected.
The joint House of Commons-Senate body which authorizes the budgets has told the associations that pricey world travel at a time of record deficits and spending restraint is unacceptable.
“What we did is we basically told everybody to go back to the drawing board,” said David Tkachuk, a Conservative senator who co-chairs the Joint Interparliamentary Council.
“You can’t be leaders, telling everybody else to practise restraint and not do it yourself.”
The associations have not been left penniless, however.
While they draft new budget requests, the council has agreed to give the 13 associations just over $800,000 — half the $1.9 million spent by the groups last year, with another 15 per cent lopped off for good measure.
That’s a far cry from the almost $1.5 million just two of the 13 associations had wanted to spend this fiscal year, largely on trips to Switzerland, Kenya, Swaziland, Belize, Trinidad, India, Austria, Seychelles, Indonesia and Great Britain, among other tourist meccas.
Draft budgets, obtained last month by The Canadian Press, showed the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association were asking for $870,366 and $605,818 respectively — most of it for international travel.
The proposed airfares for some of the excursions — $2,500 to New York, $10,500 to New Delhi and Jakarta, $5,000 to Vienna and $7,000 to Geneva — suggested the MPs and senators weren’t intending to fly economy.
And at proposed hotel rates of $300 and $400 a night, they weren’t apparently planning to stay in any fleabag motels.
Tkachuk said the trips are important for maintaining trade and diplomatic relations with other countries. But he added:
“When people go on a trip somewhere and it’s paid for by taxpayers, you know, you have to be careful. Not that they haven’t been careful in the past; it’s just been business as usual and it’s not going to be business as usual (anymore), period.”
Later this month, the Joint Interparliamentary Council, which Tkachuk co-chairs with Conservative MP Andrew Scheer, deputy speaker of the House of Commons, will begin analyzing each association’s revised budget requests.
Tkachuk acknowledged the savings will be a drop in the bucket compared to the record $54 billion deficit the federal government is struggling to tame.
But he said it’s important symbolically that politicians tighten their own belts.
“When you’re elected and you’re a politician, symbolism is very, very important.”