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The prime minister’s family vacation to Jamaica over the New Year cost taxpayers nearly $160,000, according to documents obtained by the National Post — including just under $14,000 in support costs from the Privy Council Office.
In a response to an order paper question submitted by Conservative Party MP Luc Berthold, the weeklong vacation to an undisclosed resort in the Caribbean nation cost $159,066.91 in flight, lodging and security costs.
While prime ministers are expected to pay for vacations out-of-pocket and reimburse equivalent costs for airfare, the trip incurred $115,526 in security costs via the family’s RCMP protection detail, $29,951.92 in transportation and crew costs by the Department of National Defence (DND,) and $13,588.99 by the Privy Council Office.
The prime minister and his family departed Ottawa for Jamaica on Dec. 26 aboard a Royal Canadian Air Force Challenger 650 business jet operated by 412 Transport Squadron.
“As per long-standing government policy and for security reasons, the prime minister must travel on government aircraft, whether he is on official of personal business,” DND wrote in their reply to the order paper question.
“As was the case with previous prime ministers, when travelling for personal reasons, the prime minister and any guests travelling with him reimburse an equivalent commercial airfare.”
The $29,951.92 claimed by DND includes $3,685.05 in per diems for the aircraft’s four crew members, and $40.20 in other expenses, listed as including currency exchange fees and ground transportation.
“Meal allowances were forfeited for the majority of the mission as most meals were provided by the hotel,” the response stated.
Protecting the PM and his family during the trip cost the RCMP $115,526 — a number that includes $114,813 in travel costs, and $713 in overtime and shift differentials.
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That number does not include regular salary of protection detail members, or costs for supporting units, the response read.
The trip also incurred $13,588.99 through the Privy Council Office (PCO) listed as “comprehensive costs for the PCO support role for the trip.”
That number includes $4,642.68 in accommodations, $2,505.21 in per diem costs, and $6,441.10 in other expenses.
While the exact role of the PCO during the trip wasn’t made clear in the documents, it did mention that a member of the office’s tour group branch was dispatched to set up secure communications for the prime minister.
Airfare for this employee was listed at $3,270.12, a number included in the above $4,642.68 accommodation costs.
Privy Council Office Spokesperson Pierre-Alain Bujold said that no matter his schedule or location, the prime minister must always be in a position to carry out government duties.
“Support for the Prime Minister includes setting up a temporary secure office that provides secure communication capabilities and IT connectivity, which requires a PCO resource to set-up and support technology,” he said.
“The travel to and from Jamaica required a PCO resource to travel in advance of the Prime Minister’s arrival in order to have the secure communications set-up, tested and fully operational.”
That temporary office space, he explained, allows the prime minister to both receive classified briefings or take part in secure conversations, should the need arise.
Neither the DND, RCMP or Privy Council Office answered questions on where the PM stayed in Jamaica, citing security concerns.
The 2022 Jamaica trip was the Trudeau’s first overseas Christmas vacation since their 2019 trip to Costa Rica — a vacation that cost taxpayers nearly $200,000 — and was their second overseas holiday last year.
In August 2022, the Trudeaus took a two-week vacation in Costa Rica, staying at the same resort the family stayed at during their 2019 trip.
That August trip came on the heels of an especially active month in the prime minister’s use of government aircraft, spending all but 11 days of July in the air and logging 26,238 kilometres across 20 flights, all performed within Canada.
That number includes a 5,500 km cross-country flight just to spend six hours attending the Calgary Stampede.
It’s more than the 26,059 km the prime minister logged during the entire summer of 2021, a tally that included two overseas flights to attend summits in the U.K. and Belgium.
“As per long-standing government policy and for security reasons, the Prime Minister must travel on government aircraft, whether he is on official or personal business,” read a statement sent to the National Post by the PMO.
“As you know, as was the case with previous prime ministers, when travelling for personal reasons, the Prime Minister, his family, and any guests traveling with him reimburse an equivalent economy fare.”
Canada’s policy of restricting the prime minister from flying commercially isn’t one shared by many other nations.
At the same time the PM was vacationing in Costa Rica last August, former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie flew commercial to their honeymoon in Slovenia.
The pair are often spotted on commercial airliners flying to and from holiday, often sitting at the back of the plane in the economy section.
Is it time for Canada to rethink this policy?
Peter Graefe, associate professor of political science at McMaster University, said the challenge lies in weighing cost savings over the security and political implications.
“It’s a bit of a catch-22,” he said.
“You save money on the flight and you don’t have the question of misuse of Canadian military equipment, but on the flip side — as we saw here — the biggest chunk of the vacation cost to Canadians is having to send security.”
While he acknowledges other world leaders like Johnson often fly commercially, we don’t know how many protection officers tagged along for that trip.
“You’re presumably increasing your cost because you can’t control the security situation in the same way,” he said.
“Optics wise, politicians would rather not be taking these Canadian Forces planes because being seen sitting in economy probably plays better.”