MPs yesterday demanded more details on Gov. Gen. Mary Simon’s in-flight catering fees, which amounted to around $218 per meal for each person present, during her trip to the Middle East in March.
“There were eight meals served and the total cost was $80,367, and if you divide that by 46 people, you get $1,744 per person—or $218 per meal—which includes breakfast,” said Liberal MP Anthony Housefather during a House of Commons government operations and estimates committee meeting.
“So that seems just way out of line to many Canadians,” he said, adding that the liquor bill for 19 bottles of wine and 15 cans of beer only came to $113.
The food costs arose from the Governor General’s flight to Dubai during her Middle East trip from March 17 to 23, 2022, and became public after Conservative MP Michael Barrett issued an order paper question regarding the price tag for eight days of travel for Simon and her delegation aboard a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) plane.
RCAF Commander, Lieutenant-General Eric KennyEric Kenny, testified before the committee, saying the RCAF has “challenges” with global catering on flights due to “very limited choices as to who we can cater with” and that some countries have much higher food prices than others.
“We go to areas where the cost of living is quite high in comparison to Canada and therefore the prices are much higher than we would see potentially here in Canada,” Kenny said.
Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus demanded the Department of Global Affairs provide the committee with detailed receipts showing how the money was spent and the menus of food available on the flights.
“We’d like to know whether we were dealing with caviar and expensive champagne, or what kind of meals are we talking about here? What does Global Affairs choose?” Paul-Hus asked.
“We’ve got an inflationary period, and many Canadians are finding it hard to put food on the table, so it’s difficult to see these kinds of expenditures,” he added.
Housefather also questioned Kenny on whether the RCAF budgets or prepares for in-flight catering costs ahead of time.
“In some cases, we have very little notice for the planning of these events,” Kenny replied.
“The cost is coming in, the estimates are coming in, just prior to actual execution sometimes as we’re issuing the contract.”
Housefather also questioned what percentage of the $80,367 catering fee was “not associated with food.”
“The reality is the catering companies don’t break that down for us,” Kenny replied. “In fact, they don’t necessarily break down the cost per menu either, so what we get is an overall cost.”
Stewart Wheeler, the Foreign Affairs Department’s chief of Canadian protocol, told the committee that “standard operating procedure” for international flights, such as the one Simon took to Dubai, is to give passengers a choice between two meal options.
“Chicken or fish,” Wheeler cited as an example.
Conservative MP Kelly McCauley asked about the quality of food being served that could arrive at such a high total.
“Are you offering a filet, a trace cut of beef? Like what is exactly being chosen?” McCauley asked.
McCauley also questioned how the expenses could have been approved by “dozens of people I’m sure [are] working on this.”
“I’ve got to ask, how did this happen?”
Lee Harding contributed to this report.