I call the meeting to order.
Welcome back to committee. I trust everyone had a good summer.
This is the 28th meeting of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates. The committee is meeting today to consider the study of expenditures related to the Office of the Governor General's Secretary.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of June 23. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely, using the Zoom application.
Regarding the speaking list, the committee clerk and I will do our best to maintain a consolidated order of speaking for all members, whether participating virtually or in person. Unfortunately, we lost half an hour, but we will try to be as close to 5:30 p.m. as possible.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind all participants of this meeting that taking screenshots or taking photos of your screen is not permitted.
I would like to welcome the witnesses. With that, we'll have opening statements. We will go in order, starting with Ms. MacIntyre, then Mr. Wheeler and then Lieutenant-General Kenny.
Welcome and thank you very much for coming. You have five minutes for an opening statement.
We'll start with Ms. MacIntyre.
Thank you, Chair and members of the committee, for this opportunity for me and my colleagues from Global Affairs and the Department of National Defence to assist the committee in its work today in its study of catering expenses related to official diplomatic travel on government aircraft.
My name is Christine MacIntyre and I am the deputy secretary to the Governor General, from the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General. In my role, I am responsible for the teams that support the Governor General's constitutional, State, diplomatic, official and public programs, in Canada and abroad.
The Governor General undertakes official international travel only at the request and upon the recommendation of the Government of Canada, in support of Canada's foreign policy objectives and to advance trade, investment and partnership opportunities on behalf of Canada.
In support of these objectives, governors general normally travel with delegations, including parliamentarians from all parties and leaders from the public and private sectors who volunteer their time to help advance Canada's policy objectives, as well as the required logistical, security and administrative staff and, sometimes, members of the media.
Once approved by the government, these visits are planned, coordinated and implemented by the Office of Protocol at Global Affairs Canada for which my colleague, the Chief of Protocol of Canada, is responsible in terms of planning, coordinating and executing.
When the use of government aircraft is required for such visits, like the one to the Middle East in March 2022, the Office of Protocol requests support from the Department of National Defence, which coordinates all details related to the aircraft including the provision of in-flight catering, as my colleague, the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, will explain.
As is the case for all such flights, the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General was not involved in the selection, provision or contracting of in-flight catering, nor did it make any special requests in this regard.
In May 2022, when the costs related to the catering provided on the flights during the Middle East visit were released, our office, like many Canadians and members, was very concerned. Stewardship of public funds and accountability are of the utmost importance to the Governor General and her office.
When we learned about this following the response to an Order Paper question, we immediately reached out to our partners at Global Affairs and National Defence to confirm the costs involved, to review processes related to in-flight catering and to evaluate and implement measures to improve efficiencies in a collaborative effort to strengthen accountability and to ensure maximum value for public funds.
In further reviewing the process and costs, our office learned from our partners that there were many variables that come into play, many of which my colleagues will describe in more detail. However, it was apparent to everyone that there were opportunities for improvement. Our office was encouraged that our partners were able to begin introducing efficiencies as soon as June 2022, even while their review of the specifics of these flights and the overall process were still ongoing.
We continue to offer our full support for the work they are doing on this file, and will do so on an ongoing basis. We have asked our partner departments to convene all offices involved in these flights on an ongoing basis to further identify ways to reduce costs and to maximize efficiencies wherever possible.
My colleagues will be able to speak in more detail about the results of the review and the improved measures they have implemented to date, but I want to assure the chair and the committee members that the Governor General and her office are concerned about these costs. We remain committed to the sound stewardship of public funds, and we continue to work with partners to responsibly and efficiently facilitate the important work the Governor General and delegations do in support of Canada and its foreign policy objectives.
While we cannot change what happened in the past, we can help implement change going forward, and remain committed to doing so.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
When the opportunity arises, I would be pleased to answer any related questions the committee might have.
Honourable members of the committee, mesdames et messieurs, my name is Stewart Wheeler, and as chief of protocol of Canada, I'm pleased to join the committee alongside my colleagues to contribute to the important discussion taking place today to help clarify the processes that are used by our offices to fulfill our mandates, and to reassure the members of the committee of our shared commitment to sound management of public funds.
As the chair and committee members may be aware, I volunteered to join my colleagues today in order to be able to share relevant information on the work that we all do together in these processes.
The Office of the Chief of Protocol is responsible for managing and coordinating international protocol operations for the State, including high-level visits and associated events, as well as a series of services offered to foreign diplomatic officials here in Canada.
As part of that role, the office of protocol coordinates and delivers travel and logistics for high-level visits either to Canada by visiting dignitaries or abroad by Canadian dignitaries.
The international practice of exchanging high-level visits by heads of state and heads of government is a central element of diplomacy and international relations. The Governor General plays an important role in this context by travelling abroad at the request of the government to advance specific Canadian foreign policy objectives. A cabinet minister traditionally forms part of the official delegation, which often includes all-party groups of parliamentarians, as well as Canadians chosen based on their ability to contribute to advancing the themes and objectives of a visit.
As an example of delegations, the chair and committee members will have noted that a number of distinguished Canadians, including former governors general, prime ministers, national indigenous leaders and decorated representatives of national honours programs travelled on our flight this past week to London to attend the state funeral of her late Majesty the Queen. On our return, the Prime Minister of New Zealand joined us, engaging in important bilateral discussions as the leaders prepared for their engagements in New York at the United Nations this week.
One of the main objectives of international visits is promoting Canada, as well as strengthening ties between nations and international partners. We meet these objectives by opening doors at the highest level, in order to lay the groundwork in key areas such as trade expansion and investments and establishing dialogue on major international issues.
Once a high-level visit has been confirmed, the office of protocol leads on the coordination of the many stakeholders involved in the execution of these visits. We ensure that partner departments have the information they require to deliver on their individual mandates. Our office does not task other departments, but rather ensures that decision points are relayed and that knowledge and information is shared. The office of protocol arranges with the Royal Canadian Air Force for the use of government aircraft to facilitate transportation and, related to that, confirms the meals to be served based on the operational requirements of the visit program, i.e., whether the flights are taking place during mealtime, the dietary restrictions of passengers, etc.
As high-level travel has resumed after this difficult period, this is an opportune time for us to redouble our continued efforts to work across departments with our partners to constantly evaluate ways that we can improve efficiencies, eliminate unnecessary expenses and tailor our processes to deliver maximum return on the investment of public funds in these areas. Over the past months, our teams have already been engaged to look specifically at this particular area of our operations in order to improve our practices and identify efficiencies and potential savings.
In conclusion, I would like to underscore the importance of the Governor General's visits and the fact that they are the result of the close collaboration between the Office of the Secretary of the Governor General, the Canadian Armed Forces, Global Affairs Canada and other partners. We are always looking for ways to increase efficiencies and responsibly manage public funds in order to efficiently contribute to Canada's priorities and objectives internationally.
I'll be happy to answer any questions members may have.
Mr. Chair, members of the committee, I am Lieutenant-General Eric Kenny and as of August, I have taken over as the new commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force. In this position, I am responsible for the RCAF's air and space force, in Canada and abroad.
In addition to air defence and search and rescue, one of the RCAF's missions is to provide safe and secure travel for what we call Very Very Important Persons or VVIPs including the Royal Family, the Governor General and the Prime Minister.
Upon a request to provide VVIP transport, the RCAF, as a service provider, coordinates all flight details to ensure the conduct of a safe and effective flight, including the provision of meal services in coordination with the GAC protocol office.
To fulfill this goal, the RCAF is responsible for supplying pilots and crews, maintaining security and safety in flight, determining logistics with foreign countries and air traffic controllers, pre-positioning aircraft if required, conducting fuelling and maintenance, and finally working with Global Affairs to select menus and provide catering.
During these flights, VVIPs are provided in-flight catering services, which the Royal Canadian Air Force works with Global Affairs Canada to confirm but which the RCAF is responsible for procuring and supplying. To do so, RCAF flight stewards will liaise with airport catering services to identify meal options and procure the selected menu for the flight.
In compliance with air safety regulations and to ensure the safety of members and crew, RCAF flight stewards verify that all catering services meet Canadian food safety standards and that any food bought and brought onto the flight is safe for consumption.
RCAF flight stewards work with airport catering services to establish options for a meal, which are presented to Global Affairs Canada for review and approval. Once a menu is finalized and approved by Global Affairs Canada, the RCAF procures the selected menu from the caterers.
Catering costs are influenced by multiple factors, especially considering the episodic nature of VVIP travel, sometimes to airports where the RCAF aircraft do not frequently travel. For example, the RCAF may be restricted to using a sole catering service. This results when airports restrict catering services to a single catering provider or when the Royal Canadian Air Force must use certain catering services abroad to ensure that food meets Canadian health and safety standards.
Additionally, foreign catering services may have restricted menu options, resulting in additional expenses if the desired menu is not readily available.
Finally, catering costs also include additional back-end fees, which are common to all airline travel. These include costs related to waste disposal, food delivery and handling and international exchange rates.
These additional fees are included in the catering costs, and are charged regardless of the number of passengers on board. Whatever the flight, we seek to find efficiencies and reduce costs, all the while ensuring safe and secure transportation.
More recently, we have worked to reduce certain costs related to meal services. We have joined forces to further identify ways, where possible, to reduce costs, while also working within the reality of catering services offered at airports worldwide.
I look forward to answering your questions.
I would like to thank our witnesses that are here today to answer our questions.
In these inflationary times, when millions of Canadians are finding it difficult to afford food, you will understand that we were very surprised by these types of expenditures. My first question deals with the Governor General's trip.
We know that the Governor General was in London March 14 and 15. However, the answer we received states that the Governor General was on board a flight that departed from Trenton, went on to Ottawa and then to London on March 16. That is impossible. The Governor General could not have been in London at the same time.
Which flight manifest is the correct one? Was the Governor General already overseas? Did the delegation join her in London?
In the answer to question No. 512, we learned that 60 passengers, including 30 guests and 30‑odd crew members, incurred costs of $57,000 over one week, which comes out to $956 per head. For the flight in question, which included 17 guests as well as crew members, expenditures were on average $3,000 per person. We have just learned that the menu had been set by Global Affairs Canada. At one point, we didn't know who was in charge of the decision-making process. We were pointing the finger at the Canadian Armed Forces, but as we have learned, they follow the orders they receive.
General, would it be possible to see the menu that was ordered by Global Affairs Canada, including the associated costs for the various meals and alcoholic drinks that were served on board the aircraft?
Thank you, General. I do understand, but we simply want an explanation.
If things are complicated in Qatar or in Kuwait and everything costs three times as much as it does elsewhere, simply tell us and you'll have answered the question. We can understand that prices are higher in certain countries and that things cost less in Riga or in Berlin, for example, as was the case with the other trip. We would be pleased to receive an intelligent answer to clear things up.
We would like to know if there were excesses during the trip. Were people served caviar and expensive champagne, for example? That is the fundamental question. We do understand that people have to eat during a trip, but there's a difference between the cost of the 60‑strong delegation's trip to Europe and that of the 30‑person delegation. That's why we need an explanation. If you tell us that in Qatar, things cost four times as much, we will understand. That is what we want to know, General. We would like detailed information in answer to our questions.
Is there an office within Global Affairs Canada that tells you exactly what people would like to eat and then asks you to provide the menu, or do you have some leeway? Does the Royal Canadian Air Force have a say in these decisions, or do you simply follow instructions from Global Affairs Canada?
Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.
It's so nice to see everybody again.
Thank you to the three distinguished witnesses who are here with us today.
I loved what Ms. MacIntyre said how, essentially, of course we realize this doesn't make any sense.
The goal here, today, is to figure out what happened and how to fix it, going forward. As I calculated, there were 46 people on the flight. Not all of them ate every meal, and not all of them were on every leg of the flight. There were eight meals served and the total cost was $80,367. If you divide that by 46 people, you get $1,744 per person, or $218 for a meal, which includes breakfast. That seems way out of line to most Canadians.
Somehow, 19 bottles of wine and 15 cans of beer cost only $113. I think most Canadians would be pretty happy if 19 bottles of wine came to only $113. If we could find a way to have the food match the wine, that would be fantastic. Obviously, that doesn't make sense, so there must be all kinds of costs embedded in that $80,367 that have nothing to do with the cost of food.
Can someone walk us through the overall percentage that has nothing to do with food—what the different things are?
If the chair permits, I'll maybe jump in and just explain. It gives me an opportunity to outline the process, because people clearly have interest in understanding how those menus are arrived at.
In collaboration with the RCAF, we establish protocol once a visit has been approved and is being planned. We establish a meal plan for the entire visit. That determines how many meals or snacks will be offered during the various legs, based on the length of flights, the time of day and complementarity with the program. When we arrive, are we being fed at an event or are we keeping staff in a flight for eight and a half hours? We have an obligation as an employer to feed them. Are we living up to standard commercial airline practices for flights of similar durations?
The RCAF then works with their catering suppliers to provide available menus that would meet those types of meals. We don't send requests of what we must eat on this flight or what we must eat on that flight. We then review those. We look for things like redundancies, and we confirm whether the program has changed in the interim, whether those are still the meals that we require.
By then, we perhaps have a bit more information on our delegation passengers. We might know about dietary restrictions or some specific meals that we need to supply. Over the period of 32 hours of flights, six legs and eight meals, we try to provide some kind of variety for our passengers, but that's the extent of the—
I would like to thank the witnesses that are here with us today to answer our questions.
All three of you mentioned, at the start of your presentation and before the meeting started, how much the amounts spent on these meals and the number of meals had been an unsettling surprise.
Mr. Housefather spoke of $267 per meal. I arrived at a total of $349 per meal. It depends, as it always does, on the way you calculate the total amount divided by the number of persons. Nonetheless, you will agree that $267 per head, whether it be lunch or dinner, is often the total amount that a family would spend for a week's worth of groceries.
This has raised questions and upset a lot of people, including me. I have used food banks over the course of my life, and to learn that five snacks cost $80,000 is a morsel that is difficult to swallow. I've just gotten off a plane and I doubt that the two Oreo cookies that I received cost the same. We are not talking about the same kind of flight, of course. I am not a VIP, I'm an ordinary person.
You do understand that this is raising serious questions, not anger, in people's minds and has touched upon their values.
Lieutenant-General Kenny, a while ago, you stated that it would not be possible to know what parts of the meal costs were not linked to the food, because the caterer invoiced the total amount. That is what I understood. If we ask you to break down the $80,000 to include management, meal delivery, storage, waste disposal and airport fees, administrative fees, security costs and taxes, you would not be able to do so. Is that correct?
Mr. Chair, I would like to thank the member for her question.
There are invoices that indicate the amount billed for food or other items, such as taxes, and that provide more detail, but other invoices are not at all detailed.
I know that these flights cost a lot of money,
for the catering specifically.
That's why we're committed to making sure that we continue to look at how we can best achieve what we're doing, which is providing a safe standard of food to those who are on our flights while ensuring we're doing so at the best price possible, recognizing that we go to areas where the cost of living is quite high in comparison to Canada, and therefore the prices are much higher than we potentially would see here in Canada.
Would it be possible to get a copy of the invoices sent for these meals by the various caterers?
You indicated that some caterers were not able to provide itemized invoices, whereas others were. Would it be possible to send us the invoices?
What we really want is to understand. As my colleague has said previously, if in Qatar things cost an arm and a leg, at least we would know and we could plan accordingly. I know that it is not always possible to plan meals well in advance, because aircraft aren't usually equipped with refrigeration systems. I'm not asking VIPs to eat Spam and mustard or peanut butter and banana sandwiches for five days. That is not what I am calling for here.
If, for example, things cost two and a half as much in Qatar than in London or in Berlin, would it be possible to plan for cold meals that can be brought on board? Is that feasible? Would that be appropriate for the diplomatic sector? I ask the question because diplomacy does not figure in my political mandate.
Mr. Chair, I thank the member for her question.
Over the years, we have changed the way we're ordering our catering services, specifically with the amount we order for the flights. Beyond working with Global Affairs Canada protocols to determine the type of menu selections—chicken, beef or vegetarian, as an example—and the numbers of each one, we also work to make sure we provide enough to cover the passengers who are on board and a bit of a contingency.
That contingency specifically has been reduced drastically over the years, most recently in 2022, but also in 2019. In 2019, we reduced the number of meals we were buying. We did a further reduction in June 2022, following this flight, on the number of meals we were buying, which does significantly reduce the cost overall for the catering provided on an aircraft.
It's great to be back and to see you all, colleagues. I hope you had a wonderful summer. It's nice to be back on the unceded lands of the Anishinabe and Algonquin people.
I want to thank our guests for being here today and for their service.
I also want to thank Ms. Vignola for putting forth this motion, which we strongly supported.
We've seen the rising cost of living where many Canadians are struggling to make ends meet. Food costs are going up. We have just seen a 41-year high in inflation and 10.8% rise in food costs. Against this backdrop, it's understandable why many Canadians were concerned. They are not concerned; they are actually outraged when they hear about the in-flight catering expenses on this trip for the Governor General's March 2022 visit and tour of the Middle East.
The shockingly high costs—the $218 a meal—is unacceptable. A number of constituents have written to me today about this issue. I really hope we can get further transparency and some changes today.
Maybe I will start with you, Commander Kenny. Again, congratulations on your promotion. We're really grateful for your service.
Maybe you can talk about whether a budget for in-flight catering expenses is established in advance for trips on Airbus and Challenger flights. If so, can you talk about what the budget was for the Governor General's March 2022 tour of the Middle East?
One of the savings that was identified was in terms of the contingency meals that are purchased for the flight, which are above and beyond the total number of people on a flight. Reducing that specifically is one of the savings that has been implemented.
There are also certain locations that we know are much more expensive than others. Having said that, working with Global Affairs Canada, we were told exactly what locations we're going to.
I will allow my colleague to speak to why they would pick certain locations.
If the chair would allow, I'm happy to jump in and add a little bit of detail there on the question of the selection of locations.
Often when we are travelling as guests to a host nation, it will be dictated what airport we need to land at. In consultation with Public Safety, other partners here in Ottawa and the air force, of course, we identify a flight routing. There may be some limitations on countries or places in which we can land to refuel, for example. That explains a little bit about the limitations we have sometimes on which airports....
I think what's really important is that the members of our teams have been working together since this episode. We recognize there are problematic elements of this process. What we're trying to do now is instill a no-nonsense environment where exorbitant costs need to be flagged. They need to be flagged at the appropriate moment, so we can make alternate choices or forgo things that might have been part of the standard operating elements that have always been included in packages.
We're happy to make those choices and we look forward to being able to deliver cost savings.
I would just mention again that we are identifying cost savings. One of the examples the general gave was on this idea of contingencies.
To help people understand, the standard operating procedure when you're on an international commercial flight is that you would be given a choice between two meals, chicken or fish. Ordering enough meals to make sure you have a balance of those and you allow that choice is an art. It's an art the caterers and the steward work through in order to have a balance between service and overage or waste.
As the general mentioned, the number of contingency meals that have been ordered in the past has been strictly reduced over the last few years. We've now decided, as one of the outcomes of the discussions we've undertaken since this became clear to us, to forgo choice altogether. So on the recent trip to London, there were no choices. That reduces the number we have to order, because everybody's eating the same thing. That's one. Obviously that doesn't apply if there are dietary restrictions, but we are able to identify those things in advance and make sure we have a robust system of checks and flags so that we're able to work together and avoid these exorbitant costs.
Just very quickly, some of the committee members have asked for copies of the menus and so on. There would have been a banquet event order or catering event order for that.
Can you please confirm that you will provide that to this committee as soon as possible for this issue?
LGen Eric Kenny: I'll get you what we have.
Mr. Kelly McCauley: Thank you.
What was the reason for the difference between the $93,000 on the Order Paper question and the revision?
Could you provide that for us, and the contracts and the menus?
When you talk about a selection of chicken and beef—I know on Air Canada you have a choice of stringy chicken or stringy tasteless chicken—often it's the same item. Is it beef or are you offering a filet, a choice cut of beef? What is exactly being chosen?
I ask because I'm kind of gobsmacked—and I'm trying to be polite here—that it's 2022, and I'm sure there are dozens of people working on this, and that $218 just seems to be: Yeah, that's okay. I have to ask: How did this happen? We hear Lieutenant-General Kenny talking about changing things in 2019, addressing the contingency in 2019, unless I heard it wrong, but now it's 2022 and we're hearing, “Well, we're going to address the contingency.”
We keep hearing, “Well, we're reviewing and reviewing.” We've been reviewing for years. I don't have a lot of faith—and Mr. Johns was getting at this—that it's actually going to get done. We hear a lot about reviewing. Would you be able to maybe put in writing to this committee actual firm steps you're taking to address the costs?
Mr. Chair, I would like not only the menus to be provided to committee members, but also the breakdown of expenditures, as I asked for previously, as soon as possible, of course. I do understand that certain catering agencies do not provide an itemized breakdown, but I would be surprised to learn that every caterer refused to provide a such an invoice.
Lieutenant-General Kenny, some of our troops went to Kuwait and to the Middle East. They ate during their flights. How much does it cost to provide a meal to a soldier who's on mission on board a flight to Kuwait or to the Middle East?
I guess just following that, $218 average for a meal.... Were there any meals that stood out that were unexpected and that were in the hundreds of dollars?
Moving forward, are you going to learn and decide that this is clearly outrageous? I'm not saying that you should eat KD, but I think it would be good for us to know the costs of the meals for our soldiers who are going overseas. As Ms. Vignola spelled out, these are the people putting their lives on the line, and we're spending this much money on a delegation.
Ms. MacIntyre, can you tell me about the objectives of the Governor General's trip and what outcomes were achieved? I think that would be important for us to understand as well, given the cost of this trip.
I will give an overview, and then I'll ask my colleague Mr. Wheeler to add to this, as these are the objectives of the government.
The Governor General is the commander-in-chief. One of the reasons we were going to this region and one of the things she did while she was there was go and visit our troops in Kuwait and in Qatar to accompany them, to see what they were doing, to offer them support and to recognize them.
We were also going to these countries as a gesture of thanks to these countries who helped Canada evacuate Canadians from Afghanistan during the crisis. We were there to build relationships with people who support this very important part in our foreign policy.
These questions.... The costs were really shocking to all of us. We had eggs. We had omelettes.
I want to pick up on that point of contingencies. You mentioned that there were contingencies. You eliminated part of them in 2019 and now, again.
Can you tell us a bit more about that? When you had the beef, chicken and pork options, how much contingency did you have if you had, say, 30 people on board? Did you have 35 meals? What were the typical contingencies?
What would happen to those excess meals once the flights were completed?
Yes, absolutely, Mr. Chair. I'm happy to take that on board.
We are constantly working together, and these people work together all the time. What we are asking our teams to do is to work in between the operational working on a specific visit to sit down and say, “What isn't working here? Let's look at the numbers, now that we see those line numbers, and ask why this is part of the standard operating procedure. Nobody asks for this, so why is it part of it? Can we eliminate it in the future? Can we decide that we're going to set up some flags, so that flags go up, a question comes over and we make an alternate choice?”
That's what we're hoping, to instill that kind of rigour. We're hoping it will be an ongoing process and it isn't a one-stop review and then it's over. We want this to be the new practice.
Thank you to all the witnesses for coming today. Thank you for acknowledging right off the bat that this is something that's not acceptable and for working toward....
Mr. Chair, I'll be splitting my time with my colleague, MP Kusmierczyk.
Madam MacIntyre, in your opening remarks, you said, “we immediately reached out to our partners at Global Affairs and National Defence to confirm the costs involved, to review processes related to in-flight catering and to evaluate and implement measures to improve efficiencies”. I would be interested in hearing about evaluating and implementing measures to improve efficiencies.
Can you talk about the measures and what you were trying to improve?
Thank you, Mr. Paul-Hus.
Before I say anything more, is everyone comfortable with the questioning?
Okay, that's great. Thank you.
It is my understanding that we will end the questioning at this point in time out of respect for your offices and the time commitments that you made.
We do appreciate you coming on such short notice and being able to be here for us. It's nice to see you working together. That's what we like to see.
We had Team Canada from 50 years ago in the House of Commons today. It makes me reflect back to 50 years ago when I was a son of a colonel who was the military attaché at the High Commission in Pakistan. I saw the work that was being done between Global Affairs—it was foreign affairs at that time—and the military, as well as Her Majesty's Governor General, who is now His Majesty's Governor General. It's just a great pleasure for me to be able to say that.
I like to see that work. I really do appreciate your time here and your efforts to do that.
With that said, I will declare the meeting adjourned.