Watchdog asks Federal Court to release Toronto Port Authority audit.
Lisa Raitt and Robert Deluce in pre-jet gambit days. Does the audit in the Star headlines have anything to do with Ms Raitt’s port authority travel expenses?
The Star’s headline, June 24, in the paper’s online edition describes a filing by Canada’s information commissioner’s office in Federal Court on Friday, asking the court to order the release of a port authority 2008 report.
The Canadian Press asked the port authority in June 2009 for its 2008 expense audit report and, in particular, any notes, minutes or recordings of a Dec. 23, 2008, audit committee meeting.
The Star article mentions a port authority a news release about the audit committee meeting, “saying it had made unspecified ‘clarifications’ to management policies governing hospitality expenses”. The audit committee chairman, Colin Watson, said, without explanation, that the clarifications were needed to improve transparency. He didn’t give details.
Of course, with many things port authority, questions arise.
Did the clarifications to management policies governing hospitality expenses have anything to do with former port authority CEO Lisa Raitt’s nearly $80,000 travel and hospitality expenses in 2007 and in 2008?
Were some or all of her 2007 and 2008 expenses ineligible under the port authority’s management policies governing hospitality expenses prior to the “clarification”?
Were the policies “clarified” to allow for some or all of Ms Raitt’s 2007 and 2008 expenses?
Is the port authority fighting release of information to hide something?
Will the port authority fight the country’s information officer all the way to the Supreme Court to keep the management policies “clarification” unclarified?
Below is the Ottawa Citizen story from April 2009 when the matter first surfaced. It doesn’t mention anything about $16 glasses of orange juice.
Lisa Raitt and the TPA Expenses — Ottawa Citizen story
OTTAWA — Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt spent nearly $80,000 on travel and hospitality during her last two years as head of the Toronto Port Authority before leaving her job to run for the Conservatives.
A summary of her expenses as president and chief executive officer of the federal agency shows she racked up $28,000 in hospitality charges in 2007 and until the fall of 2008. In the same period, she spent an additional $51,000 on travel, with trips to Washington, D.C., Newark, New Jersey, and two visits to London, England, among other destinations. Raitt’s expenses were tabled in the House of Commons this week in response to an order paper question from Toronto NDP MP Olivia Chow.
“There is no reason why a Crown corporation, in tough economic times, would spend that much money traveling,” Chow said Thursday. “It just does not show leadership using taxpayer’s money for this kind of expensive travel.”
She said Raitt shouldn’t have been taking “junkets” when the Port Authority was running a deficit.
With a 2007 operating budget of about $17 million, the Port Authority is a relatively small shared-governance corporation, with the City of Toronto and the province represented on its board. It is responsible for a shipping terminal, a marina and the Toronto City Centre Airport.
According to its 2007 financial statement, the Port Authority reported an operating loss of nearly $1.9 million, after losing $6 million the year before.
Raitt earned a salary of $185,000 plus $19,000 in other benefits in 2007, the statement shows.
Asked for comment, a spokesperson in Raitt’s ministerial office emailed the following: “As the independent audit committee of the Toronto Port Authority has previously stated, these approved expenses are typical for a business of its size and complexity.”
Earlier this year, the board’s audit committee said it was clarifying its policy on hospitality expense but said there was nothing unusual in the expenses it reviewed. It did not publicly release the expense reports.
Board chairman Mark McQueen said in an email that Raitt’s $50,000 in expenses on 40 trips over two years was “not atypical.” The 2008 trip to London, he said, was to meet with insurance underwriters and saved the Port Authority $20,000 but cost less than $4,000.
“That’s a good return on investment.”
The records tabled this week show that Raitt, in addition to the 2008 trip, also spent another $3,622 traveling to London in February 2007.
Some of her trips within Canada were the most expensive. She spent $2,991 on a trip to Ottawa the same month she visited London last year, $3,012 to go to Montreal and $4,234 to visit Saint John, New Brunswick.
Her hospitality bills varied from month to month, with the highest of $3,817 in January 2008.
“The more distant North American trips involve various domestic and continental Port Associations, which meet in different cities on a rotating basis,” McQueen wrote. “[The] $30,000 for hospitality over two years doesn’t surprise me, given the wide variety of roles that the CEO plays in receiving dignitaries and business development.”
McQueen said that while the Port Authority always followed its purchasing policy, the clarification “ensured that no hospitality expenses, however small, can be recovered without the approval of the immediate supervisor.”
When Riatt was sworn into the Harper cabinet last October, the Citizen filed an Access to Information Act request with the Port Authority for all her expense claims dating back to 2002.
The agency requested several extensions on the time allowed to respond, then said retrieving the “extensive” records requested would require substantial work. The agency asked for payment of $2,070 to produce the records.
In the October election, Riatt upset Conservative-turned-Liberal incumbent Garth Turner in Halton, Ontario.
Because she is now a cabinet minister, all of Raitt’s travel and hospitality claims are posted on her department’s website. Those records show that in the first five months on the job, she ran up $34,700 in travel expenses.
Glen McGregor, Ottawa Citizen, April 2, 2009