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Duncan accused of spending $3,500 on chauffeur for Paris trip

Minister Dustin Duncan accused of sightseeing instead of attending Paris conference; Duncan defends the use of the Mercedes and denies he skipped meetings.
Dustin Duncan spoke to reporters following Question Period on March 5.

REGINA - Opposition New Democrats were accusing Crown Investment Corporation Minister Dustin Duncan of overspending on the taxpayers dime on a government trip to Paris last year.

In the Legislature during Question Period, Opposition Leader Carla Beck and SaskPower Critic Aleana Young pointed to invoices obtained from Duncan’s trip to Paris representing the province at the World Nuclear Expo from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1. The Opposition accused Duncan of billing Saskatchewan taxpayers for  €2,347.30, or $3,500 Canadian, for a private Mercedes chauffeur service which they claimed was used to visit world-famous attractions like the Arc de Triomphe and Napoleon’s Tomb.

According to travel logs from the chauffeur service provided by the Opposition to the media, Duncan was picked up from the military museum that housed the tomb of Napoleon on Nov. 29 at 2:30 p.m. The Opposition claimed he was supposed to have been touring pavilions at that time at the World Nuclear Expo, located about an hour’s drive away. Duncan’s own schedule had listed that he would be touring the Expo between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

The chauffeur service also billed a stop at the Arc de Triomphe on Nov. 29 at 10:30 p.m., which also raised the ire of the Opposition who accused Duncan of a sightseeing expedition.

“It’s a pattern of entitlement with this government,” Young told reporters outside. “We’ve seen this time and time again, whether it’s spending $1 million on a week Dubai or now $700 bucks a day for a private chauffeur in Paris. This is a government that’s far too cavalier with taxpayer dollars during a generational cost of living crisis.”

The NDP also suggested Duncan should have tried other options, saying they were quoted $350 for a five-day rental car from Enterprise at Charles de Gaulle Airport. 

When grilled inside the Assembly, Duncan denied he had skipped out on any meetings, pointing to a full schedule. Outside, in meeting reporters, he did offer some clarification about several of the points in question.

The $3,500 Mercedes was actually more of a van that carried not only Minister Duncan but also the other three members of his entourage with him, including his Chief of Staff, a senior official from CIC and one of their trade representatives. The van was described in the invoices as a “Mercedes Classe V Extra Long.”

Regarding the stop at Arc de Triomphe, Duncan said that was chosen as an “agreed upon pickup point for the shuttle van that was providing the service for us. It was a couple of blocks away from the restaurant that we had a dinner meeting at and so it was just an easy point of reference for both the driver and our group.” 

Duncan described the restaurant meeting as a “business meeting.” He said he did agree with the driver on a recognizable landmark near the restaurant that would be a pick-up point.

As for Napoleon’s Tomb, Duncan explained that there was actually a “break in our schedule” that day.

“At our own expense, we did, I did tour of the museum, spent an hour touring the museum, had lunch there.” He said that was all paid for at their own expense and they also took a taxi to get there.

Duncan said for the most part it “was a busy couple of days in Paris with a significant number of meetings, but I did have a break in my schedule.” 

As for the allegation that Duncan should have toured exhibits at the convention centre, which is what was listed in the schedule for where Duncan was to have been between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., Duncan explained that was “really just a placeholder in the schedule in the event we wanted to walk around in the pavilions which we did on multiple days and looked at the other exhibitors that were there at the conference. So it wasn’t really to say for this block in three hours, we are just going to walk around the grounds of the expressed exhibition hall. We did some of that, certainly on that day we did some of that, and then decided prior to the next meeting that I had, which was later in the day, that we would take a couple of hours of downtime.”

Duncan said on that day there have been meetings in the morning, and there was a panel at the conference in the afternoon. “But there had been a gap in the schedule,” Duncan said.

As for the cost of transportation, Duncan said they tried to minimize spending. “I flew, our party flew economy to and from Paris. Our hotel is near the airport near the Convention Centre, which is significantly lower rates than Central Paris where we did have other meetings on multiple days. And I know that certainly people that I talked to from other jurisdictions who were attending the conference did stay in central Paris. We decided to stay outside near the airport, which is a lesser amount. 

"The challenge, and I think the recommendation in terms of using the shuttle van service, was basically because of the, I think, notorious travel when it comes to congestion in Paris. There was, I think, a wildcat strike during the week when I was there, there were all sorts of other threats… If you Google Paris traffic, there’s often things in the news about disruptions in public transportation, and just a significant number of meetings that we had both at the site at the conference, and in central Paris on multiple days, and there was a lot of back-and-forth. The recommendation was using the shuttle service was an easier way to get around and to ensure that we made all of our meetings on time, and that we frankly didn’t have to extend our stay in Paris a bit longer and incur another night of hotels, and possibly higher flights coming home, those sorts of things.”

As for the NDP suggestion they should have taken cabs or Uber, Duncan said “my assumption is, they’re all pretty comparable, considering that in the cities the size of Paris and the number of international conferences that they host, a van-type of service like we used would be pretty comparable.”

As for criticism of the use of a Mercedes in particular, Duncan said it was a European brand that was  “pretty ubiquitous… you don’t see a lot of Fords or GMs driving around the city of Paris, you see European model vehicles.”

Duncan also pointed to the value of having gone to that nuclear energy conference. “I think it certainly did relate directly to what happened next week at COP (Dubai) when 22 countries decided to sign an agreement to triple nuclear energy over the coming decades, which will have significant implications, positive implications for the province of Saskatchewan. This was a very important conference to attend, and I attended all the meetings that I had scheduled to attend, so I didn’t miss anything I was intending to go to.”