Of Orange Juice and Limos

Last month, I returned to Grenfell, Saskatchewan for a family funeral.  The event was, of course, tragically sad.  However, returning to small town Saskatchewan is always an eye opening experience.  Grenfell is a small prairie town of about 700 people, a little more than an hour east of Regina on the #1 Highway.  In many figurative ways, Grenfell could not be farther from the Ottawa Bubble.  Residents of Grenfell generally, and certainly those in attendance at the funeral, were almost exclusively seniors and without exception, without any pretension.

There is a certain amount of common sense amongst prairie folk, an instinctive wisdom and moral compass that is frequently absent in the hustling city of Edmonton and in the Ottawa Bubble.

It was the beginning of May and admittedly we Conservatives were having a rough few weeks in Ottawa.  Alleged underestimates in a military procurement were dominating national headlines.  But the topic of mind had nothing to do with accounting discrepancies at DND and everything to do with Executive extravagance on Parliament Hill. During my trip to Saskatchewan, a story broke that Cabinet Ministers in Ottawa had collectively racked up $600,000 in overtime for limousine drivers—the vast majority of which was for “waiting time”, as Ministers attended to the nation’s business.  Access to Information Records revealed that some Ministers’ drivers were logging as many as 20 hours/week in overtime and that one Minister charged taxpayers 1000 hours of overtime on top of an average salary for limousine drivers of $48,000.

This news came on the heels of well publicized reports of the misadventures of CIDA Minister Bev Oda, who on a Business Trip to London, charged taxpayer for $16 orange juice, $1000 a day limousine service and an upgrade to a hotel that allowed smoking.  Ms. Oda’s indiscretions have been well publicized.  She has apologized to the House (and to Canadians) and paid back the money.

But the $600,000 in limousine driver overtime did not play well with the small prairie town sensibilities.  How could the average payout be $20,000 and how could the chart topping Minister’s driver rack up $40,000 in overtime charges???

Admittedly, I had no answers.  The Cabinet Minister Limousine Service represents one of the most egregious displays of Ottawa opulence.  Every Minister is entitled to a vehicle and a driver.  For security reasons, I do not take issue with Ministers being chauffeured to events around the Nation’s Capital.  But there is little justification for Ministers being driven around the Parliamentary Precincts, especially when the House of Commons also operates a continuous Shuttle Bus Service for MPs and all Parliamentary Staff.

But the worst waste of taxpayer money involves the 6,548 hours of standby service limo drivers recorded in 2011.  The House of Commons frequently sits until late at night and if votes are being recorded, conceivably more than 30 limousines complete with drivers, will be parked outside Center Block for hours; the whole time overtime being charged for this standby “service”.

Surely there is a more cost effective method of getting Cabinet Ministers to and from meetings.  Surely, as government preaches fiscal discipline such extravagance must be eliminated.  Surely, having limo drivers on standby for hours is a waste of taxpayer dollars.  Surely, there are taxis available in Ottawa.

In Grenfell, most of the attendees have never ridden in a limo and none of them have ever drunk $16 orange juice.  Surely, they would appreciate if government took more care in spending their money.


31 comments for “Of Orange Juice and Limos

  1. L O'Neill
    June 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Might I suggest the judicious use of school buses? Many people, one driver, low fuel costs and if it’s good enough for our most precious resource, it’s good enough for parliment.

  2. Joe Clark
    June 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    It wasn’t OJ, it was a double screwdriver

  3. MA
    June 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Thank you for your candor and putting a spotlight on this issue. It’s very difficult watching friends and family lose their jobs while this is happening unchecked :/

  4. Jason
    June 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Ha, Rathgeber trying to set himself apart. We ALL know you’re just as guilty Boss Hogg.

    • Denyse
      June 27, 2012 at 2:47 am

      Its plain to see that their are comments here made by those wanting to make Brent look bad, by some coward to intimated by the Boss, to even leave his real name,I’m so proud that there is at least one Con PM who cares about us taxpayers, and for this guy here to say anything as stupid as he has just proves my point he must a coward. Remember nothing lasts forever.

  5. Lee kenney
    June 26, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    As a observer of the antics in parliament,I’m reminded of my 8 th grade teacher introducing us to politics and we studied ” Animal Farm “. To this day I judge politicians by that book !If you see “Some animals are more equal ” and rumours are free speech , run !

  6. Tim Hicks
    June 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    I am not a Conservative supporter, nor anywhere near your riding, but I applaud you for this just the same.

    • Chris Fry
      June 28, 2012 at 6:39 am

      Hear Hear!!!!!

      • ConnorG
        July 9, 2012 at 9:27 am


  7. LAS
    June 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    This is all good and well, but it’s really small potatoes compared the CMHC liabilities and supply management ripoffs. And the ethanol mandate your government forced down our throats.

  8. June 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    Well-said Brent. I was on Parliament Hill the last week of May and wondered about this myself, given how compact the Parliamentary precinct is. I had meetings with four MPs in three different buildings including Centre Block. It was no problem at all to walk from between offices. The only drawback was the airport-level security for each building. When I went further afield I took one of Ottawa’s Bixi bikes – bicycles you can rent all over Ottawa and return to different places. Maybe Ms. Oda should give Bixi a try. I’d gladly spring the $7 per 24 hr fee for her.

  9. Gavin
    June 26, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Thank you for standing up against the waste of our tax money.

  10. Cheena Graham
    June 27, 2012 at 12:43 am

    O my! Guess you’ll be next in line for a trip out behind the barn! The sheer gall! That you would DARE to speak about anything without a ‘script by harper’!!

    Guess you’ll be on the naughty stool for a while – for daring to speak out about herr harpo’s govt. wasteful spending! (very small potatoes compared to the $10Billion lie)!
    Hey, I have an idea …. why not be one of #13Heroes; either cross the floor or sit as an Independent? You’ve just proven you can think for yourself … that alone makes you an anomaly in the herd of con mp’s.

  11. June 27, 2012 at 4:38 am

    Congratulations for standing up against King Harper for everyday Canadians who struggle just to put food on the table. If you are serious about taking a stand, introduce a private member’s bill to limit limo travel unless the RCMP agree it is for security purposes. MPs should take the shuttle like everyone else or, hey, maybe even walk the five minutes. Leave the limos for the stars.

  12. L Bureau
    June 27, 2012 at 6:44 am

    Thank you for admitting to this. It’s not news to me that the government carelessly spends taxpayer dollars on lavish lifestyle choices that most of the population can not afford. None the less, it is refreshing to see an MP blog about such discrepancies. As a high earner, it would take roughly 20 incomes equal to mine just to cover the $600 000 limo standby cost. As all other Canadians, I hope to see the day where all government personnel be held accountable for their spending of tax payer dollars. Just think, save a few hundred thousand here and a few hundred thousand there on thing like this limo service issue, all of the sudden there’s an extra million dollars to spend towards goods and services this country needs.

  13. Stew
    June 27, 2012 at 7:18 am

    Thank you for the frank blog post Mr. Rathgeber. I just hope you continue to sing the same tune when you are back in Ottawa. Please remember, you were sent to Ottawa to represent the folks of Edmonton – St-Albert…not the other way around.

    If I may be so blunt, I hope that you and other MP’s (of all stripes) remember this and continue to stand up for what you believe in and not just repeating party lines.

  14. Rene
    June 27, 2012 at 8:58 am

    The Opulence of Ottawa (and other political systems) is flawed for many reasons, but not the least of which is Free Money. While the people argue over which party is better, you’re all the same when it comes to spending tax-payer dollars, because there’s no need to justify raising our taxes next year, unless you spend more. And if you don’t spend more, you’re “not doing your job”. This ridiculous method of never looking for the better solution, just the more expensive one, will continue to devalue Canada, and drive more and more people into poverty.

    If you REALLY want to start saving people money, let’s stop sending money to the Royal family. Stop paying people to stand around and wait, and hire a taxi when you’re done work (just like a citizen would, or better yet, take the bus). Don’t buy into the same mentality that drives every nation further into debt. Build a new model that people will want to emulate!

    Reinvest that money into our health-care and education systems. Let’s actually stimulate the minds and bodies of this country, to develop and lead the world LIKE WE SHOULD, instead of being at the mercy of the USA, China, and India. Let’s look for viable solutions to our energy needs, instead of destroying precious lands and resources, and building pipelines that stretch across this country. Let’s actually develop products and services and a way of life in a country that has been given every possible richness a human could ever desire, and show the world that Canada isn’t just about hockey!

  15. Ian Clarke
    June 27, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Proud of you, that took a lot of guts. Although I had wished that this sense of responsibility in terms of representing constituents had manifested itself during the budget debacle, this is an excellent step in the right direction. I hope that you continue to speak out on issues, and that the government’s response is a bit more than simple ‘passing the buck’ rebuttals and talking lines.

  16. June 27, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    Mr. Rathgeber:

    My colleagues and I applaud your comments about the opulence in Ottawa.

    But, we must remmember that Mr. Harper and his colleagues have done a good job on many other issues and one issue, that he is not getting credit for, is the clean up of the mess left over by the Chretien regime with regard to breaches of the Free Trade Agreement and the NAFTA by a group of criminals operating inside the government See http://www.waterwarcrimes.com

    We think Mr. Harper should let the public know the great job he has done both in Ottawa and Victoria where his former staff are assisting British Columbia Premier Christy Clark clean out a nest of criminals inside the BC Government.

    • Paula Beach
      June 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      Should we also applaud turning a 13 billion surplus to 200,000 billion debt? A debt that our children’s and children’s children will be paying off.

  17. Anne Nield
    June 27, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    Well, good for you for speaking up — but sad that this is regarded as something revolutionary when it should be normal behaviour. Courage and integrity would be nice qualities in MPs.

  18. Susan
    June 27, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Well said Mr Rathgeber. Today you were quoted in the Calgary Herald as saying the role of a backbench MP is to hold the government to account. Let me add that the role of any MP, not just the backbenchers, is to represent their constituents and hold the government, including the PM, to account. I hope the fact that you’ve taken a stand will encourage your fellow MPs to follow your lead.

  19. Paula Beach
    June 28, 2012 at 5:21 am

    oh how I wish I could believe you were truly on the side of the people. But not addressing the real outrageous behavior lends me to believe not. For example the non-disclosure of funds regarding the budget, referring to scientists and people who care about our environment as radicals and terrorists, putting the cost of oil spills on to the land owner – which is despicable. Unfortunately the current government is smoke and mirrors, dive and duck never the truth. I wonder if you really have seen the light or just another ploy. The only way to know for sure is if you go independent. Are you going to STAND UP and represent the people who have trusted you or are you going to betray us again?

  20. June 28, 2012 at 7:32 am

    WTG Brent — if more Conservative MPs thought like you. I could seriously consider voting Tory again! Here’s hoping.

  21. Patricia Goodwill
    June 28, 2012 at 9:45 am

    Thank you to all the back bench-er Mp’s that have nothing to lose for standing up to Harper …except for ….. getting re-elected.

    Thank you for the at least the ” Gut’s ”

    Canadians are not only so frigin mad at Harper’s Gov’t n Sask, but in Ontario too…

    Harper has worn out his welcome.

  22. karl philip
    June 28, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Mr Rathgeber,
    compliments for having the courage to speak up
    against the Harper clqique and the abuse

    by the way, traditonally vote PC but since Harper lied to
    the retired people esp pver the income trust issue,
    I shall never vote PC again

    Harper is high risk for the Can democracy

    • Patricia Goodwill
      June 28, 2012 at 10:23 am

      I agree !! Income Trust’s…never voted Conservative again !

    • Paula Beach
      June 28, 2012 at 8:41 pm

      well said!!

  23. Dave
    June 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Congratulations on calling a spade a spade. Your article is simply refreshing, I too hope the government spends our money wisely as it is in the end our money. Now how about opening up the new fighter acquisition to Boeing and the Eurofighter? I would think a better deal for the taxpayer and Canadian industry could be achieved by having an open competition rather than being tied to just Lockheed Martin.

  24. Kent
    June 28, 2012 at 9:59 pm

    Thank you for your integrity and honesty. A true Conservative is socially progressive and fiscally conservative. Please bring the party back, I cannot vote for the disgusting cesspool of waste that is promoted by the current regime.

  25. Mahesh
    June 29, 2012 at 12:17 am

    I am not a conservative but i congratulate you for speaking out against wasteful spending.

    We need more people in Ottawa who thinks like you.