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Pricey Bank of Canada meeting included trip to oilsands

Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz takes part in a news conference upon the release of the Monetary Policy Report in Ottawa January 21, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

A Bank of Canada junket to the oilsands at Fort McMurray, Alta., helped push the cost of a single board of directors meeting last June to over $100,000, a CBC News analysis shows.

The scheduled meeting of the board in Edmonton included a side trip to Fort McMurray, with a reception, dinner, museum tour and three private helicopter flights over northern Alberta costing about $2,500 each.

Those bills were in addition to meeting costs at Edmonton’s Matrix Hotel of at least $27,000, including almost $1,300 for wines and $900 for centrepieces for the tables.

Travel and accommodation costs for Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz and four of his senior staff came in at $20,000, with another estimated $50,000 for the dozen independent members of the board, who flew in from across the country.

The Bank of Canada has declined to provide detailed costs for the event. But publicly posted expense claims and other invoices and records obtained under the Access to Information Act indicate the final bill was in excess of $100,000.

Panellists and speakers

Each June, the central bank holds one of its six or seven annual board of directors meetings outside Ottawa. Last year’s in Edmonton focused on the oil and gas industry, with at least nine panellists and speakers from the private sector. The event occurred when oil was trading at more than $100 US a barrel, before falling sharply in the months following, catching many economists off-guard.

But before the Edmonton session, Poloz and more than a dozen others flew to Fort McMurray in two planes, took helicopter tours, paid a visit to a museum, and attended a reception and dinner before heading back to Edmonton for more receptions, lunches, a visit to an art gallery and a three-course dinner on June 18-19.

The Bank of Canada has refused to make public its guidelines for travel and hospitality costs, which differ from those of the federal government. Treasury Board rules set strict limits on such costs for government departments, and require a minister’s pre-approval to exceed them.

The Conservative government has for years been clamping down on travel and hospitality, setting tighter limits and encouraging teleconferencing, as it eliminates the federal deficit.

A bank spokeswoman declined to answer a series of questions about the cost of the Edmonton-Fort McMurray events.

"The Bank of Canada has its own policies and guidelines for travel-related expenses," Louise Egan, a media-relations official, said in an email. "It takes guidance from the policy directives of the federal government but is not bound by them." She did not respond to a question about whether the bank had abided by its own guidelines for the June events.

Asked about the value for public money for the Alberta events, Egan said such regional meetings "afford the board and staff members an opportunity to gain a greater understanding of regional economic conditions and the outlook for key industries."

Carney farewell cost $30K

In 2013, the Bank of Canada’s hospitality policy came under scrutiny when The Canadian Press reported officials spent about $30,000 for three farewell bashes for outgoing governor Mark Carney. At the time, bank officials volunteered much of the cost information.

Last fall, Poloz himself generated headlines when he suggested unemployed young people should seek unpaid work as interns to gain job experience, a suggestion slammed by critics who said only the children of the rich could afford to give up a paycheque.

The Bank of Canada is currently refurbishing its Wellington Street headquarters in a $460-million construction project, with another $150 million budgeted to locate staff to temporary offices while the work continues to 2016.

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