Parliament spent nearly $600,000 on unused luxury hotel rooms, as nearly half of those scheduled to attend the European Parliamentary Meeting it hosted either did not attend or chose cheaper hotels.
Parliament had expected 700 delegates to attend the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s annual meeting, to be held in Vancouver from June 30 to July 4. Conferences are usually held in Europe, where most member states are based. .
In the end, only 365 delegates were able to attend, and not all of them stayed in hotels chosen by the government. This resulted in taxpayers being billed for his 1,400 nights worth a total of $596,000, averaging $425 per night.
The conference’s audiovisual costs were also higher than expected, resulting in the event costing $649,000 more than the original budget of $1.8 million.
Sen. Elizabeth Marshall, a former Newfoundland and Labrador auditor general, questioned why the conference costs so much.
“It’s very concerning, especially in the current economic climate, that we’re looking at a $1.8 million event that’s 35% over budget and yet people are lining up at food banks,” a council official said. Marshall said during his appearance before the Senate majority leader. Economic, Budget and Management Committee. “It’s not good for the Senate and it’s not good for the House.”
Conservative senator Don Plett said he was worried about the budget deficit.
“I don’t know how…you can bring this to the surface and ignore this,” he told the committee. “We’re in the red over $500,000.”
Lawmakers were also surprised by the amount of money spent on unused rooms.
“Frankly, I think this is a disastrous waste of money,” Conservative Party member Kerrylyn Findlay told members of the House of Commons Home Affairs and Economics Committee.
“I’m really upset about this,” NDP House Minority Leader Peter Julian said. “This is a huge budget deficit. I don’t think it’s justified at a time when Canadians are really suffering.”
Liberal MP Hedy Fry, who led the Canadian delegation to welcome the conference, defended the decision to hold the event. She said organizers were only informed in May that the number of participants would be significantly lower than expected and had released as many rooms as possible, but were bound by contracts with hotels.
“We had a very normal turnout, and then for some reason people didn’t show up,” Frye told CBC News. “I later found out that one of the reasons for that was that the number of hotel rooms was also higher than before the pandemic. Hotel prices in Vancouver just skyrocketed after the pandemic.”
Delegations from Russia and Belarus were not present due to sanctions imposed by Canada on their countries in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The last in-person meeting before the pandemic, held in Luxembourg in 2019, included 34 Russian delegates and five Belarusians, said Nat Parry, head of OSCE parliamentary communications.
“Other delegations who were unable to go to Vancouver cited budget constraints and the cost of traveling to Vancouver as reasons for their cancellation, while Russia and Belarus were unable to attend due to difficulties obtaining visas,” Parry said. ” he said.
Fry said organizers of parliamentary meetings will now ask Canadian-hosted organizations to only provide representation numbers if they are certain they will attend. Participants who cancel at the last minute must pay at least the minimum amount for the room that was reserved for them, she added.
The organization, now known as the OSCE, was founded in the 1970s and aimed to improve dialogue between Western and Eastern countries. Congress was added in 1991. Most of the OSCE PA’s 57 member states are in Europe, but Canada and the United States are also members.
Prior to the Vancouver conference, the last time Canada hosted an annual OSCE PA conference was in 1995 in Ottawa. When Congress hosts an international conference, the House of Representatives pays 70 percent of the cost and the Senate pays 30 percent.
The Vancouver conference was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed to 2023 due to the pandemic.
The organizers are hosting five luxury hotels near the Vancouver Convention Center where the conference was held: Hyatt Regency, Pinnacle Hotel Harbourfront, Fairmont Pacific Rim, Fairmont Waterfront, and Marriott Vancouver Pinnacle Downtown. I booked a room. Contracts with each hotel guarantee a minimum level of revenue.
It’s unclear how much the government paid for each hotel room, but room rates at all hotels, all rated four or five stars, ranged from approximately $426 to $1,024 per night for the period. It is.
It was too expensive for many delegates. Some simply didn’t go to Vancouver, and others chose cheaper rooms away from the conference.
In a presentation to the House and Senate Domestic Economic Committees, Jeremy LeBlanc, director of the Congressional International and Intercongressional Affairs Bureau, said one-third of the delegates who attended the meeting chose hotels further away.
In May, organizers released as many rooms as possible to the hotel, but conference attendees were still obligated to pay for many of the rooms they did not use under the contracts they signed.
The hotel has not yet responded to CBC News’ questions about whether the rooms released by the council were resold to other guests.
Senator Peter Boehm, a former Canadian diplomat who has helped organize meetings such as the G7 in the past, said European countries considered it an “honorable” event to host the OSCE PA.
Boehm said organizers were initially informed that a Russian delegation would be attending, but they were under sanctions from Canada and may have been embarrassed by discussions during the meeting about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. .