Amy Minsk – Global News
May 23, 2012
OTTAWA – A federal bureaucrat billed taxpayers for more than $100,000 in travel and accommodation expenses during the year he spent looking for ways to trim government spending.
Bill Teeter, who works for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency out of Guelph, Ont., travelled to Ottawa 45 times between January 18 and December 22, 2011, racking up bills ranging from $1,015.31 to $3,424.28 for each trip.
Teeter had a team of 14 people in Ottawa, working with secret documents that could neither be transferred over networks nor transported from Ottawa, a spokesman for the CFIA said.
The team was tasked with determining the best ways the agency could use their resources.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for protecting food in the country.
In the lead-up to the March 2012 budget, every federal department and agency was forced to look for areas to cut spending and present different cost-reduction scenarios to the Conservatives.
Budget 2012 revealed cuts across the board, with the CFIA being hit with $56.1 million in ongoing cuts.
Unions representing CFIA workers have said they anticipate losing approximately 100 inspectors because of the cuts.
In the year Teeter spent looking for efficiencies, taxpayers footed a $100,511.99 bill, which included airfare, ground transportation, accommodation, and meals and incidentals.
Teeter also claimed $446.57 in hospitality expenses in 2011, shopping at Costco, A & W, a local shawarma restaurant, Canadian Tire and Boston Pizza to host three meals with government officials.
A request for information from Teeter was redirected to a spokesman for the agency, who said the veteran bureaucrat was asked to take on the one year assignment on account of his vast and varied experience in the field.
“Given his long experience at the agency and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada … he was uniquely positioned to lead our business transformation initiative,” Tim O’Connor wrote in an email.
The official Opposition, however, says there is no justification for these expenses, especially in the context of reducing the deficit.
“I don’t think the irony is lost on Canadians,” said NDP MP Peter Julian. “The minister has made a mistake authorizing these trips… Ultimately, the minister is responsible for the kinds of costs we’re seeing out of his department at a time when they’re cutting back on essential safety components around the CFIA.”
The Liberal Treasury Board critic John McCallum, similarly dismayed, said the spending was “ridiculous.”
“Travelling 45 weeks out of 52? Virtually every working week of the year is too much,” he said. “I think he’s breaking the spirit of restraint, but I wouldn’t put the blame on him. I put the blame on the minister in charge of finding these expenditure reductions.”
A spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said these types of staffing decisions at the agency are made independently of the minister. The minister has, however, instructed the CFIA to ensure all costs are reasonable and justifiable, the spokeswoman said, although she did not address these specific costs.
The unions aren’t biting onto the minister’s message – $100,000 could pay for an inspector or other workers to help safeguard Canadians for one year, said Bob Kingston, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s agriculture union.
Teeter’s experience with the department, according to O’Connor, spans 29 years and saw him in several positions at different levels with different responsibilities and specialties.
Because the assignment lasted one year, it would have been “impractical” to relocate Teeter’s family to Ottawa, O’Connor said.
Further, he said, the fact that Teeter’s team was dealing with confidential documents meant he had to meet face-to-face with his colleagues.
Teeter’s expenses are available on the proactive disclosure pages of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s website.
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