GG’s office played no role in controversial catering bill, army says

The military says the governor general’s office played no part in decisions about a controversial catering bill for a recent official trip and is urging steps to be taken to minimize the cost of onboard food services.

In a statement to the media, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Department of National Defense (DND) said catering for Governor General Mary Simon’s trip to the Middle East in March was $12,750 lower than originally quoted in documents released this week.

The answer to a Conservative MP’s question was that more than $93,117 was spent on in-flight catering during an 8-day work trip that included stops in London, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait.

The military now says that amount was the original estimated price and the actual amount was $80,367. The military also said the catering bill was for “meals, delivery and handling of in-flight catering” for 29 passengers, plus 17 flight crew members and security personnel.

“While we strive to minimize meal costs at all times, catering services are only available from selected providers as defined by various airports and local authorities, with charges set by these providers,” wrote DND spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier.

“The Canadian dollar exchange rate also affects costs.”

CBC News asked DND and Global Affairs Canada for a breakdown of costs and providers, along with copies of the menus. That information has not yet been provided by either department.

Rideau Hall said on Wednesday that Simon shares the public’s concerns about the catering law and wants more clarity from the government departments involved in the decision.

Simon’s office also said the trip to the Middle East had been requested by the Prime Minister to support Canada’s international diplomatic objectives.

For security reasons, it is protocol for the Governor General to fly aboard the Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150 Polaris aircraft. The statement from DND and CAF states that all decisions regarding catering are made in conjunction with the Global Affairs Canada protocol.

Governor General Mary Simon’s working visit to the Middle East was her second overseas trip since she was appointed the Queen’s representative to Canada in July 2021. Simon is pictured here with her husband Whit Fraser. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The military said it can prepare meals in advance for CC-144 Challenger flights departing from Ottawa using ingredients from local supermarkets, or get meals from “local restaurants… on rare occasions,” to cut costs. But it can’t do the same with international flights.

“This is typically a very cost-effective way to provide meals on board, but it is limited to flights departing from Ottawa,” Le Bouthillier wrote.

The DND/CAF statement also said that when alcoholic beverages are served on government aircraft, the military does not pay for it.

Bill of $114 for in-flight alcohol

Global Affairs Canada confirms $114 was spent on alcoholic beverages on flights to and from the Middle East. Nineteen bottles of wine and 15 cans of beer were served aboard the military plane, according to the answer to a paper question from Conservative MP Scot Davidson.

The National Post first reported on the catering bill and the costs of donated alcohol.

Defense Secretary Anita Anand told CBC News on Wednesday that “tax responsibility is critical.”

“I believe deeply in the importance of caution,” Anand said. “I have no comment on the specific issue you are raising, but I will say that I believe in fiscal responsibility across the board.”

In Thursday’s question time, Conservative MP Michael Barrett addressed the Liberal government over the catering law. He pointed to media reports of Canadians unable to afford groceries or air conditioning due to inflation and accused the government of acting with a sense of entitlement.

“What we’re asking this government to do is do a reality check,” Barrett said. “When will they put their rights aside and put Canadians first?”

Tourism Secretary and Assistant Treasury Secretary Randy Boissonnault responded, accusing conservatives of wanting to “shredd up” government efforts to offer daycare services for $10 a day across the country.

“In Toronto alone, a family will save $19,790 a year to pay for groceries and gas, Mr. Chairman, and we’re doing this across the country,” he said.

Global Affairs Canada has not yet responded to CBC’s request for comment, which was filed Wednesday.