Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s controversial trip to India in February was even more expensive than first reported.
Documents tabled in the House of Commons Monday reveal that the nine-day trip cost Canadian taxpayers $1.66 million — roughly 10 per cent higher than the $1.5 million the government reported in June.
Adam Austen, spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, said it can take weeks and even months for the cost of a prime ministerial trip to be finalized as bills and invoices come in. He did not rule out the possibility that the final tab could rise still further.
“There were many ministers participating, it was a long trip. Eventually, the costs do begin to add up on big trips like this,” he said.
Global Affairs spent the most on the trip — $790,210, including $17,044 to fly celebrity chef Vikram Vij to India to prepare a meal for an official reception.
The tab for food and drinks aboard the prime minister’s Airbus came to $142,938 “based on the latest review of payments,” according to the Department of National Defence (DND). The plane cost $11,000 an hour for the 43.7 hours of travel, a total of $485,070, said DND.
That tab didn’t include the cost of bringing Canada’s defence minister to India. Harjit Sajjan and an aide flew separately to Delhi from Munich, where they attended a security conference. Flying Sajjan and his aide to Delhi, then on flights within India with an India-based defence adviser, cost DND an additional $13,175.
While the trip was one of the more controversial missions to India made by a sitting prime minister, it was not the most expensive.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2012 trip to India topped $2.5 million. That sum included $1.2 million to fly two armour-plated Cadillacs and an SUV to India.
Trudeau’s staff did not have vehicles flown to India.
News that the India mission cost more than first disclosed is the latest headache for Trudeau to come out of a trip that generated more than its share of headaches at the time.
The trip made headlines when it was revealed that Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted of the attempted murder of an Indian cabinet minister in 1986, posed with Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau for a photo at an event in Mumbai and was invited to a reception with Trudeau.
Photos of the Trudeau family in a variety of traditional Indian outfits on the trip also proved controversial, with some observers pointing out that they were wearing traditional outfits more often then some of the Indians they met during their stay.
The documents tabled in the House of Commons in response to a question posed by Conservative MP Ben Lobb, provide insight into some of the costs of the Feb. 16-25 trip.
While travel and accommodations account for much of the tab, the government spent $835 on hockey sticks for a hockey event in New Delhi and another $7,656 on Canadian wines.
The Privy Council Office, which supports the prime minister and cabinet, spent $212,075 on the trip; many of the names and details of how the money was spent were not reported.
The tab also includes costs racked up by four other cabinet ministers. Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains spent $4,027, while Bardish Chagger, minister for small business and tourism at the time, spent $3,823. Science Minister Kirsty Duncan’s bill was $2,307 and then Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi spent $1,966.
While the Conservatives have criticized Trudeau’s trip to India in the past, Austen defended it.
“This was an extremely important trip in terms of the continued development of bilateral ties between the two countries but also trade ties. There was a significant amount of money that was signed in deals during the trip there.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was quick to jump on the news that the trip’s cost had increased.
“This trip damaged our relationship with India, embarrassed Canadians on the world stage, and the cost just keeps rising,” he told CBC News. “Unfortunately, Canadians have to pay the cost for Justin Trudeau’s failures.”
Scheer has made plans to travel to India for nine days in October, saying he wants to repair the damage he argues Trudeau’s trip did to the relationship between Canada and India.
“Don’t worry, I don’t dance and I’m not bringing a celebrity chef along with me,” Scheer told Conservative supporters last month.