Among all the nasty things I heard about Harper as I cross-crossed the country during last year’s election, I never heard anyone suggesting the Harper Conservatives had developed a fondness for taxpayer-funded luxury during their decade in office.
Of course, Harper cabinet minister Bev Oda once did but she’s one of the exceptions that proves the rule. When she got caught billing taxpayers for thousands in limo bills, extra hotel charges and — yes — that famous $13 orange juice, she paid the money back and then decided to retire from politics. It was that or she likely would have walked Harper’s plank.
Even the biggest scandal of Harper’s decade — the Duffy trial — was borne of the Conservatives ham-handed attempt to get taxpayer money back that Harper thought had been improperly spent. Great motives. Really lousy execution.
The Harper Conservatives knew one of the reasons for their narrow first victory in 2006 was that many voters had concluded too many Liberals of the day had become, as ex-Liberal cabinet minister David Dingwall once said, entitled to their entitlements. And voters were fed up paying for Dingwall’s chewing gum as much as the excesses of the sponsorship scandal.
But now, less than a year after being in office, we have another Liberal seemingly entitled to her entitlements.
Jane Philpott, who everyone, including me, said was doing such a good job as health minister was discovered this week to have billed taxpayers for thousands of dollars in limousine rides she and her top aides used.
Not only that, but that money was shovelled to a limousine firm — pardon me, it’s an “executive sedan” firm — run by someone Philpott knew had been a volunteer on her campaign.
Philpott, only when outed by the National Post, admitted the charges were inappropriate and promised not to do it again.
But that won’t end it.
Earlier this year, Conservative MP Dan Albas asked every Trudeau government minister, including Philpott, to tell the House of Commons how much they’d spent on limousine services between the time they were sworn in and April 22.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan fessed up he spent $1,500 on a limo during a two-day visit to San Jose, California.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould confirmed she spent $222 for two limo rides from Ottawa’s airport to her downtown Ottawa office.
Democratic Reform Minister Maryam Monsef billed us $145 for a limo at Toronto’s Pearson airport for the 150 km trip home to her riding in Peterborough, Ont.
But that was it. Every other minister — including Philpott — swore to Parliament they didn’t spend a penny on limos.
In fact, Philpott signed her name to this statement: “(I) did not use rented limousines while on official business,” a statement she made on April 28, less than a month after spending $1,700 with her supporter’s car service for one day of “executive sedan” use.
Philpott’s press secretary offered this as an excuse: “The minister did not use a limousine, the vehicle used was a sedan.”
OK. Good luck with that story.
As former top Harper aide Dan Robertson said yesterday, entitlement is like kryptonite to the Liberals. It will be the thing that one day — maybe not now but someday — has the potential to do them in.
BY DAVID AKIN, PARLIAMENTARY BUREAU CHIEF
August 18th 2016