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Canada: Minister boozes it up with the for-profits.

http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs
Taxpayers paid thousands for meals
Former corrections minister, staff spent $6,778 on food, drinks

Ontario taxpayers paid thousands of dollars for dinners, booze, snacks, lunches, dry cleaning and travel for former corrections minister Rob Sampson and his staff, according to government documents.

The documents, obtained through Freedom of Information legislation for the period January, 2000, to March, 2001, reveal pricey dinner meetings and expensive hotels. When Sampson was corrections minister a post he lost in the April cabinet shuffle he was livid when he discovered a plan to buy $80 basketballs and a $1,200 CD player for the women's jail at Milton's Maplehurst Correctional Centre.

At the time, Sampson said: "We want to make sure that taxpayers' money is spent wisely and effectively ...

"I have instructed the ministry to make sure that they spend money as though it was theirs."

During the 15-month period, Sampson and his 11 ministerial staff spent a total of $20,338.72. Of that amount, $6,778.69 went to food and booze and another $5,427.32 for hotels. The rest went for travel, cell phone equipment and miscellaneous items.

Sampson, the Conservative MPP for Mississauga Centre, said buying dinner, having the odd drink and travelling are all part of being cabinet minister.

There is a government directive that states "costs incurred for alcoholic beverage will not be reimbursed" but it is a rule that is routinely broken. Sampson and his staff were reimbursed on several occasions for alcoholic drinks.

Ian Dovey, a spokesperson for Management Board chair David Tsubouchi, said while there is a directive on buying booze, it is up to each minister's office to police itself.

The following are some of the restaurant bills submitted by Sampson and his staff:

$530.99 at Shula's Steak House, owned by former football great Don Shula, on Nov. 1, 2000. The Tampa restaurant bills itself as "one of the top five steakhouses in America".

$360.15 at Hy's Steakhouse in Toronto on Dec. 29, 2000, including booze.

$305.93 at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Toronto on Oct. 12, 2000. Another $300.97 on April 3, 2001.

$231.46 at Morton's of Chicago steakhouse in Toronto on June 22, 2000.

$138.94 at Hy's Steakhouse in Toronto on Feb. 15, 2000, including booze.

$433.29 at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in San Antonio, Texas, on Aug. 13, 2000.

It is not known how many people attended each meal.

Sampson said when the government was looking at private prisons he talked to many people from around the globe and would "pay them back by entertaining them. ... I don't think that is anything unusual."

For example, he said, when he was in Tampa, Fla., learning more about electronic monitoring he took officials there out for dinner.

"I think we have used the taxpayers' dollars efficiently and effectively. ... I try to make sure I spend it as if it was my own."

Other ministers written about by The Star in recent months have paid back the money they spent on booze.

Environment and Energy Minister Chris Stockwell relented under pressure from both the public and Premier Ernie Eves and agreed to pay back $3,000 in bar tabs that he and his staff billed to taxpayers from January, 2000, to March, 2001.

Stockwell insisted that he and his staff didn't know that they were violating (provincial) guidelines.

Other expenses submitted by Sampson include $252 for a briefcase, $5.51 for chicken nuggets, fries and an ice tea, $18.92 for Coke and Kleenex, $9 for mini doughnuts, and mileage for a staff member to drive to a Tory party event during a by-election in September, 2000.

Liberal MPP Dave Levac (Brant) called Sampson's expenses further proof "that these guys are living high on the hog and I'm offended by it and I know all reasonable people are offended by it."

New Democratic Party MPP Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre) said this kind of "wining and dining" was "repugnant" on several levels.

"These are the people who cut welfare rates by almost 22 per cent, haven't given disability pensions one penny in increase over the lasts seven years, yet he eats at the poshest restaurants," Kormos said.

Sampson was forced to step down as corrections minister in December, 2000, when backbench MPP Tory MPP Doug Galt, his parliamentary assistant, read out a list of young offenders in the Legislature. Then premier Mike Harris reinstated both men in March, 2001.

In August, 2000, Sampson and his executive assistant Deborah Reid went on a short trip to Britain to visit prisons. The trip cost $3,991.14, including $1,963 to stay at one hotel for two nights. The bill includes a $23.38 tab from the Harvard Bar for drinks.

During this same trip the two spent almost $1,000 for two BritRail passes. Sampson says it was cheaper than flying.



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