Europeans flying high on Canada’s dime

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Taxes, we are firmly told by our big brothers in federal office, are not for repairing the nation’s frayed social safety net.

They are not for offsetting the demographic demands on the health care system of an increasingly aging population.

And they are certainly not for anything so wobbly and unnecessary as a fully-subsidized, universal program of early childhood education spanning this great realm from coast to coast to shining coast.

I can tell you what they are for, though.

“Prime Minister Stephen Harper gave visiting European delegates a free flight home to Brussels last week, after adding a Toronto reception to their schedule,” the CBC dutifully reported on Sunday, after having obtained a government email to the RCMP’s Protective Policing branch.

According to the public broadcaster’s Terry Milewski, “That reception made it impossible for the visitors to make a planned commercial flight from Ottawa, and thereby get to a Saturday meeting in Brussels. The cost of the (Canadian Forces) Airbus flight is estimated at more than $300,000”

Specifically, the piece states: “The modified Airbus A310 costs $22,537 an hour to operate, according to official figures in 2012. The price has likely risen since then, but, at that rate, and assuming 15 hours’ flight time from Toronto to Brussels and back, the trip would have cost $338,055.”

And that doesn’t begin to account for the costs of additional security, motorcades, or the reception, itself, which was arranged to mark the occasion of Canada and the European Union signing their new Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Of course, opinions varied on the significance of the cotillion, itself.

Trade Minister Ed Fast assured the House of Commons that it was “a critical element” of the European visit. “On this side, we understand how important trade and investment are to driving economic growth and long-term prosperity in this country,” he said whilst denouncing his NDP tormentors as “anti-trade”.

Yet, the Europeans, themselves, seemed to suggest that the reception was not a formal extension of the summit which produced the final agreement earlier in the day. It was. . .oh. . .how do you say? . .a party.

And as people would be up late, presumably having a marvelous time trading war stories from their days at the negotiating table (Hey Frank, you remember that time I rewrote Section 4, Sub-section 8, Paragraph A in less than three minutes? I tell you, the Europeans never knew what hit ‘em), putting a publicly paid-for jet at the disposal of our new best-friends-forever to facilitate their last-minute return home, is just the gentlemanly thing to do.

At least Greg Thomas wasn’t buying the hooey. According to the CBC article, the director of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation found himself in the deliciously ironic position of being a guest of the event at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto: “(He) said his organization would send a cheque to the government for the cost of his attendance, and added that the Airbus freebie was a waste of taxpayers’ money. ‘Victory lap or not, there’s no excuse (for) blowing 300 grand on short notice for what amounts to a political show,’ (he added). ‘Many Canadians can stomach the expense of hosting the royal family when they come to Canada. (But) having royal treatment afforded to European bureaucrats is not something that’s going to go down, I think, in any part of the country. They could have done this in Ottawa. They could have saved $300,000 and it would have had the same effect.’”

Amen to that, brother. And if this were any other sort of negotiation, planners in the Prime Minister’s Office might well have decided that discretion is, indeed, the better part of valour.

But this was CETA, the glittering jewell in Stephen Harper’s crown as prime minister – or so he believes. 

“The historic. . .Agreement is by far Canada’s most ambitious trade initiative, broader in scope and deeper in ambition than the. . .North American Free Trade Agreement,” reads the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development website. “It will open new markets to our exporters throughout the EU and generate significant benefits for all Canadians. The Government of Canada has made opening new markets through agreements like CETA a priority – just one way it is creating jobs and opportunities for Canadians in every region of the country.”

Let us hope so. It seems we have some taxes to pay.

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