According to records, House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota went on a costly South Pacific excursion with a clerk accused of sleeping on the job.
Taxpayers paid $150,496 for Speaker Rota, his wife Chantal, and Liberal-appointed clerk Charles Robert to attend a three-day conference in Canberra, Australia, for the Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth last January 3.
"It [allows] speakers to discuss procedural and administrative challenges," said speaker spokesperson Amélie Crosson.
"Speaker Rota attended this conference, the first in-person conference since 2020, to deliver a keynote address and participate in discussions on topics such as technology, security and training."
Other guests included then-Senate speaker George Furey and his wife, Karen. Furey quit on May 12 after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.
Expense accounts uncovered four staff total joined the delegation, with taxpayers covering $116,696 for airfare and ground transportation, another $22,184 for hotels, per diem charges of $11,018 and billings marked "miscellaneous" for a total of $150,496, reported Blacklock's Reporter.
Robert, the clerk who resigned following accusations of sleeping at work, earned $231,000 per year. He tendered his resignation on December 7, 2022 — weeks before the Canberra trip. However, his last day at work took effect on January 13 — mere days after the conference.
As first reported by CBC, the clerk faced reprisal from senior managers for sleeping during work, tipping off Liberals in advance of procedural rulings and celebrating the 2019 general election win as 'good for his career' — all allegations he vehemently denies.
Speaker Rota told the Commons last November 23 they never launched a public investigation into the allegations. "Most big corporations or private corporations, small companies, do not discuss personnel issues out in public. I honestly feel very strongly about this."
Robert briefly took leave with pay last November 16, then abruptly announced his resignation on December 7 following misconduct allegations. "Though it has not been without its challenges, serving as your clerk has been an extraordinary privilege."
According to Blacklock's Reporter, the costs incurred by Robert totalled $16,151 for transportation, including business class airfare, another $3,579 for hotels, and $1,441 worth of per diems to cover meals and miscellaneous expenses.
"It is a regular practice for the clerk to accompany the speaker to conferences such as these," Crosson told the reporter, adding Robert's "participation was planned long before he announced his retirement."
"It is [also] worth noting he was still clerk until January 13, and an acting successor was not announced."
The federal government approved the Canberra excursion despite a Budget 2023 pledge by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to cut travel spending by "roughly 15%" this year.
"I think those savings are eminently obtainable," Freeland told reporters on March 28. It is "really important to be a fiscally responsible government," she added.
Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux, in his April 18 testimony at the Senate national finance committee, criticized the promised travel cuts.
"With successive governments having announced reductions in travel expenditures, if we followed all these commitments throughout the years, the Ottawa airport should be closed by now," he said. "It's still open."
Despite Freeland's promise, Giroux acknowledged that government expenditures rose at a "sustained rate."
"If you plot this on a graph and look at the trend, over the next three years, we see the trend line going in one direction," he said.