Chris Selley: $7,000 hotel suites. Restoration bills of $93,000. Trudeau buys himself a populist reaction


We all know that £4,800 is too much for a hotel room. Some of us just manage to pretend otherwise

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Forty-eight hundred pounds a night was way, way too much for Canadian taxpayers to pay for a hotel room for any member of our delegation to the Queen’s funeral. It was too much at C$6,000 – the figure converted from Brian Lilley of the Toronto Sun reportedbased on documents received through Freedom of Information – and it was even more at C$7,300, which is what £4,800 was actually worth on the day of the funeral.

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For our own reasons, some of us will argue that it wasn’t too much. But it was. We all know that.

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The best explanation the government could reasonably offer (assuming it was true) would be that they wanted the entire Canadian entourage to stay in the same hotel, which must have been convenient for weekend events — the piano -lobby bar is preferable, but not essential — and the Corinthia was only missing one room. “Damn, we’ll have to take the three-bedroom suite.”

This is not a good explanation: in an article published on September 13, Bloomberg reviewed the limited number of rooms available for the following funeral weekend and found many much more reasonable options. And anyway, the government did not propose it. He won’t even say who stayed in the suite. With Governor General Mary Simon saying it wasn’t her, the answer is pretty obvious, which only makes it more heinous that we have no right to know. “Can (Trudeau) at least tell us who got the $6,000 a night room? asked Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre during question period on Wednesday. Trudeau ignored the question. “Having a strong Canadian presence there as one of the best countries in the kingdom was expected of us, and it was important to see all Canadians so well represented together at the funeral,” he said, to About nothing.

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Speaking of Simon, we all know that $93,000 was too much to feed and water his entourage aboard a government jet during a trip to the Middle East in March. Herself admitted to some “concern”.

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Much more dramatically, we all know that $54 million was way too much to spend on ArriveCAN.

We all know these things, unless we’ve made heroic efforts to convince ourselves otherwise.

It’s not Pearl Harbor. No crops were destroyed. The country will survive this obvious overspending, and historians are unlikely to take notice. Yet, as a core function of government, those involved should be busy figuring out how not to spend so much in the future – and there are few signs of that happening.

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Unfortunately, at times like these, some in the Canadian chatterbox – including some of my fellow journalists – adopt the insufferable persona of the sophisticated reductio-ad-absurdist: “I suppose you would rather the Prime Minister and his entourage stay at the local youth hostel. Next time we’ll just throw GG and his entourage a bag of bagels and a tub of cream cheese. What ?

Others argue that they are simply not worth paying attention to: they are tiny jolts in the vast universe of government spending. What parochialism, what myopia on the part of Canadians to worry about such insignificant expenses!

It is important, however. Many who think we should ignore such spending will also tell you how maddening it is that the government is not fixing 24 Sussex or buying modern planes for the Prime Minister’s use. They usually accuse the same parochialism and myopia.

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The idea that Canadians will rise in fury against sensible public spending is mostly misplaced conventional wisdom, in my view. Prime Minister’s new plane are on order. The National Capital Commission is spending huge sums to renovate the Prime Minister’s cottage at Lake Harrington. The final price to be paid for the renovations to the Center Block of Parliament is $5 billion, with completion in 30 years. No one seems to care about any of this, in particular.

The real risk of backlash is not against buying X, renovating Y, or building Z. It is knowing that once politicians approve any of these projects, there is odds are the bureaucrats in charge will find a way to spend astronomically more and take much longer than promised.

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Expensive hotels cost what they cost, at least. Book a three-bedroom suite for £4,800 a night and you’ll get a three-bedroom suite in London for £4,800. We all know that a renovation of 24 Sussex, last indexed at an unfathomable $36.6 million, would cost far more than that for reasons no one would be able to adequately explain. A government that overspends on airline meals, apps and hotel rooms will also overspend on what really matters.

Speaking of the inexplicable: this week the Parliamentary Budget Officer weighed in on the cost of 15 Canadian surface combating (CSC) warships — a contract awarded to the Irving shipyard in Halifax 11 years ago, whose construction has not yet started. When the government approved the project, the projected design and construction cost was $26 billion. Now the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates $84.5 billion. Expect it to go higher, if the ships ever materialize.

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A condition of the contract, unsurprisingly, was that the shipyard in question actually be capable of building the damn things. David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen reported Thursday that the Irving wealthy now want $300 million more of your money to “upgrade…facilities to build CCS.”

Any government—Liberal, Conservative, NDP—should rightly panic about this. It’s no fun having a barely functioning navy when the world order threatens to crumble on your head. However, a government as concerned about populism and the erosion of trust in government as the Liberals claim to be should be particularly concerned. Most Canadians are slow to anger and quick to forgive, but it’s hard to imagine a more effective way to cultivate a populist backlash than with $7,300 hotel suites, gifts to billionaires and a “go to hell” when asked to justify it.

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