Governor General Mary Simon says media’s portrayal of travel costs is ‘unfair’ but changes may be on the way
Governor General Mary Simon says that while she thinks the way catering expenses for her Middle East trip in March were portrayed in the media was « unfair », a review is underway to minimize the cost of future trips.
« I don’t even know what the meal orders are. But I do know one thing: our meals aren’t very extravagant on these trips. They’re pretty much like airline meals and the way they’ve been portrayed in the media was pretty unfair, I thought,” Simon said in an interview with CBC The House aired Saturday.
The National Post first reported on the cost of the Governor General’s trip, during which she spent time in London, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. The Department of National Defense (DND), which is responsible for arranging catering on official diplomatic flights, said the total catering cost for the eight-day trip was around $80,000.
Simon told host Catherine Cullen that her office shares Canadians’ concerns about the cost of the trip and is working with Global Affairs Canada and DND to reduce spending in the future.
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Last month, Stewart Wheeler, who is chief of protocol for Canada at Global Affairs Canada, said some elements of the flights were « problematic ». MPs expressed confusion over the cost and Tory MP Pierre Paul-Hus said he wanted to know if there were any « excesses ».
Christine MacIntyre, Deputy Secretary to the Governor General, told MPs that Rideau Hall was also surprised and concerned about the costs.
“The costs were really shocking for all of us,” she said. « We had eggs. We had omelettes. »
In a statement to CBC News, DND said an interdepartmental working group was being created to draft measures « in pursuit of the best possible value in the future. » The department said catering costs are affected by everything from exchange rates and location of stops, to the number and type of catering companies available.
Simon said The House that his international trip was under the direction of the Prime Minister.
« I don’t just pick up my suitcase and travel wherever I want, » she said. « Every trip has to be very carefully planned. The goals of the trip have to be very clearly defined. »
Traveling a necessary part of the job: Simon
Simon said she expects another parliamentary committee meeting on the matter and hopes MPs can « continue to clear up the misunderstanding ».
« I think it’s necessary for people to understand that, firstly, I don’t take my job lightly, and secondly, I would like to do it as conservatively as possible. But the amount of travel what we doing is great and it’s a necessary part of the job,” she said.
Simon said she had no role in the logistics of planning the trip, but was focused on the purpose of her trip.
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“I participate in discussions about world peace and Canada’s role in world peace. And going to different countries to talk with our partners about how we can work together to advance our position on global peace is very important for Canada, as well as for the world,” she said. « So I take that responsibility very seriously. »
The Governor General addressed The House from Reykjavík, Iceland, where she participated in the Arctic Circle Assembly, a gathering to discuss Arctic issues and challenges.
GG takes on a multi-faceted role
Simon said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine poses a significant risk to cooperation and progress in the Arctic. The Arctic Council, the main intergovernmental forum on the region, is largely on hiatus because Russia holds the chair.
Russia’s invasion poses « a risk to the world », Simon said.
Simon is Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General. She was born in Kangiqsualujjuaq in northern Quebec.
« We have always understood among ourselves in the Arctic region that this is our homeland and it must remain our homeland, » she said. Simon also noted that while the Arctic is certainly considered a strategic area, it is also important to recognize that for those who live there, peaceful collaboration and development are important.
Simon, who has worked on Arctic issues for a long time, said collaboration in the region has come a long way in recent decades and has embraced greater acceptance of the role played by indigenous peoples.
« You know you can see that change, but change has to be embraced in a way where we’re not just talking about people’s roles, but actually involving them in discussions and in the decision-making process about how which the Arctic is affected by different issues,” she said.
Although she said she remained apolitical, Simon added that she was able to use her « power of convening » to stimulate conversations with the Prime Minister and others to share her advice.
Simon said she is guided by her background as a northerner, her role as governor general and her commitment to addressing reconciliation, describing her role as « multi-layered. »
« I am very involved in this work and I remain very focused on my mandate, but my past always guides me. »