Bev Oda apologizes 'unreservedly' for pricey London hotel upgrade

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda stands to apologize during Question Period in the House of Commons on April 24, 2012. (Adrian Wyld/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The cabinet minister responsible for delivering Canadian aid to the world’s poor has apologized for moving from one swanky hotel in London to an even swankier one where the bill to the taxpayer was more than twice as high.

On Tuesday, the second day of tongue-lashing from opposition members in the House of Commons, International Co-operaton Minister Bev Oda rose to deliver her mea culpa.

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“The expenses are unacceptable, should never have been charged to taxpayers, I have repaid the costs associated with changing hotels and I unreservedly apologize,” Ms. Oda said during the Question Period.

Ms. Oda was supposed to stay at the Grange St. Paul's Hotel last June while attending a conference in the British capital but she switched to the Savoy where the bill for three nights cost $1,995, or $665 a night. A stay at the Grange would have been $287 a night.

Eight hours after the expenses of the London trip were revealed by The Canadian Press, Ms. Oda’s office announced she had reimbursed the fee difference between the two hotels, as well as a $287 cancellation fee demanded by the Grange. She also paid back the cost of a $16 glass of orange juice.

But she did not pay back the nearly $1,000 a day that was spent on a luxury car and driver to shuttle her between the conference site and her new hotel – transport that opposition members point out would not have been required had she stayed in the Grange, which was also the conference venue.

It is not the first time Ms. Oda has run into trouble by racking up expenses that the opposition has deemed exorbitant. Shortly after she was first appointed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet six years ago, the Toronto-area MP was castigated for rejecting a minivan that had been provided to ferry her to the Juno Awards and instead opted for a limousine ride.

Ms. Oda’s apology came after Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae demanded that Prime Minister Stephen Harper explain his minister’s spending habits at a time when people in her department are being cut as a result of the government’s program of fiscal restraint. Mr. Harper, who is reputed to have a short fuse when members of his cabinet run into this kind of trouble, allowed Ms. Oda to respond for her actions.

On Monday, she had seemed less recalcitrant. In an interview with CHEX in Peterborough, Ont., near her riding of Durham, Ms. Oda said she had nothing to be ashamed of.

“[The opposition]can be extremist and can use words that will catch people’s attention but all of the guidelines have been followed and guidelines that have been agreed to by all parties, even those who are making the accusations,” the minister told a local reporter.

Those same opposition members were not satisfied with her apparent change of heart.

Charlie Angus, the NDP ethics critic, said that to get to his question he would have to wade through Ms. Oda’s “crocodile tears.”

Ms. Oda has apologized for the fact that a posh hotel was not posh enough for her, Mr. Angus said, “but we didn’t get an answer or an apology for the $1,000 limo rides that she dinged the taxpayers for. I called the hotel and it turns out they offer free luxury shuttles.”

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan replied by saying the minister had apologized for the costs associated for the change in hotels. “Our government has always believed that ministers should conduct their affairs with the greatest respect for taxpayers.”