COLUMN: Akin – A tale of two spenders

- July 3rd, 2012

Cautionary tales on spending public dollars

by David Akin

While in London a few weeks ago to cover the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, I dropped by the Savoy Hotel, which bills itself as “London’s defining luxury hotel,” a boast which even its competitors say is spot on.

This is the hotel where International Development Minister Bev Oda decided to hang her hat after rejecting the much more downmarket hotel her staff had booked her into while she was there last year attending a conference on international immunizations.

Now, the Savoy is not just any hotel. The hallway leading to its famous American Bar is lined with photographs of the celebrities who once drank there including Bing Crosby, Noel Coward, Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. There, you can get a shot of 1965 Macallan scotch for $400.

The top room at Savoy, the Royal Suite One Bedroom, is just $21,000 a night.

For $25,000 a night, you can get the two-bedroom Royal Suite.

According to the hotel staff I spoke with, the basic “Savoy Guestroom” will set you back about $1,200 a night.

Oda, apparently, got a deal. Records released to a Canadian Press reporter through an Access to Information request found Oda paid only about half that, or $665 a night.

Still, Oda’s upgrade would have cost Canadian taxpayers an extra $1,000 but, in the ensuing hue and cry about her upgrade, she paid back the difference out of her own pocket.

Now contrast Oda’s upgrade instincts with those of bureaucrat Helene Yarmuch.

Yarmuch is a bureaucrat with Industry Canada. She works in Edmonton where she is the executive assistant to Industry Canada’s Prairie region director.

Back in January 2009, according to a memo recently released to QMI Agency under another federal Access to Information request, Yarmuch was worried that the car she was going to rent for a visiting cabinet minister was going to be too small.

Gary Goodyear, the minister of state for science and technology, was going to visit Calgary and, while there, he and three other people travelling with him needed a car to get around.

Under the spending guidelines set down by the Treasury Board, Yarmuch was preparing to rent them an intermediate size car. But, as she sensibly wrote, “An intermediate car can in many instances be quite small.”

So she prepared a one-page memo for Industry Canada headquarters back in Ottawa with a request to rent a full-size car for minister Goodyear and his entourage.

How much was this extra luxury for minister Goodyear going to cost the taxpayer? All of $3.35. You read right: Three dollars and thirty-five cents.

Yarmuch did the homework, pricing out the cost of an intermediate car for the day – $35.99 – versus the price of a full-size vehicle – $38.75.

She got her boss in Edmonton to sign off and then got the bean counters back at headquarters in Ottawa to approve the extra spending.

Paperwork does indeed make the world go around.

Oda’s instinct to upgrade her lodgings in one of the swankiest hotels in Europe may end up costing her her job when Prime Minister Stephen Harper shuffles the cabinet deck later this summer.

We suspect all cabinet ministers will learn a lesson from Oda’s extra spending. If not, Helene Yarmuch could teach them a thing or two about the value of the taxpayer dollar.

Categories: Contributor Columns

Subscribe to the post

Comments are closed.