Liberals tout cuts amid reports of $288k travel tab by senior official

Marwa Grimes

The former head of Canada’s nuclear watchdog spent nearly $100k more on travel than the next closest senior bureaucrat over a 19-month period

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OTTAWA — Treasury Board President Anita Anand says the government needs to refocus “unnecessary spending” like executive travel amid revelations the former head of Canada’s nuclear watchdog expensed $288,000 in business trips in 19 months. 

“It is extremely important for all of us to be very judicious about the choices we are making relating to travel,” Anand told reporters after a cabinet meeting Tuesday. 

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Monday, Le Journal de Montréal reported that Rumina Velshi, the former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), expensed $288,000 to taxpayers for business trips between January 2022 and July 2023. Velshi left the organization in October. 

According to public disclosures of her travel, Velshi travelled frequently to Europe, the United States and within Canada, namely between Ottawa and Toronto, during that period, with 14 trips costing over $10,000 to the public coffers. 

She spent over $18,000 for an eight-day trip to Dubai for the Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum from March 25 to April 1, including over $12,000 just for her airfare. 

She also spent over $13,000 on plane tickets for a week-long trip to Paris and London in early September l to attend two nuclear energy-related events. The entire trip cost also cost just over $18,000.

In October of last year, Velshi expensed $8,228.96 for a trip to Wyoming from Oct. 5 to Oct. 8, including $3,000 for three nights at the Cloudveil hotel, which bills itself as a “luxury hotel” on the “historic Town Square” of Jackson Hole. 

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According to the newspaper, Venshi is the senior bureaucrat who spent the most on travel during that period, and by far. The second highest tally was by Canada’s Ambassador for Climate Change, Catherine Stewart, who spent $189,000. 

Even Terry Guillon, whose job as lead media advance for the Prime Minister’s Office is to scout out a destination before the prime minister travels, expensed $120,000 less than Velshi. 

Many of Velshi’s travel expenses were incurred after the federal government announced in its 2023 budget that it would be cracking down on travel costs for bureaucrats across all departments and agencies as part of a spending review that should result in $7.1 billion in savings over five years. 

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Anand declined to comment on Velshi’s spending specifically, but said the point of the travel expense review was to cut down on needless costs. 

“The goal of the spending review that we are launching and is actually in progress … is to make sure we’re refocusing unnecessary spending, such as on executive travel, such as on outsourcing, towards the priorities that matter to Canadians,” Anand said Tuesday. 

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In an email, CNSC spokesperson Braeson Holland says Velshi respected the government’s directives on travel, hospitality, conference and event expenses on all of her trips. 

He also insisted Velshi travelled in business class during her trips abroad, such as to Dubai and Europe, despite the extremely high price tags for those flights. Government travel guidelines prohibit officials from flying first class. 

He noted that the CNSC is a world leader in improving global nuclear safety and security and is often solicited by foreign counterparts to share that expertise. 

“Post-pandemic, requests for international participation often came with short notice,” Holland said. 

“Former President Velshi’s leadership in Canada and around the world on nuclear regulation came at a time when countries are trying to meet net-zero targets and new advanced nuclear technologies are emerging as solutions,” he added. 

Holland also said the agency recently proposed a reduction in travel to the Treasury Board Secretariat as part of the government-mandated cuts. 

Opposition parties denounced Velshi’s expenses Tuesday, calling them lavish and disgusting. 

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“There’s a reason why we say leaders must lead by example. It has an influence on the whole institution. As such, it’s not surprising to learn that a Liberal appointee feels entitled to live lavishly on the backs of taxpayers. She’s just following Justin Trudeau’s example,” Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus said. 

Bloc Québécois MP Mario Simard called on the commission to review its practices going forward to ensure it is “properly” managing taxpayers’ money. 

“While everyone is tightening their belts and the population continues to suffer from inflation and rising mortgage rates, it is disgusting to see our tax dollars spent this way,” he said in a statement. 

The agency reports to the Minister of National Resources Jonathan Wilkinson. 

National Post asked a series of questions to Wilkinson’s office Tuesday regarding specific travel expenses by Velshi and if the minister considered them to be in line with his government’s commitment to cut such costs. 

In a laconic statement, Wilkinson’s spokesperson Carolyn Svonkin did not respond to any of the questions, but said the CNSC was an independent regulator that oversaw its own finances. 

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