The opposition parties worked themselves into a fair lather last week when Parliament was informed that it had cost taxpayers $127,000 for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family to vacation in the Bahamas at Christmas.
“Completely outrageous,” snapped NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.
“When did the prime minister forget that it's his job to serve Canadians and not the other way around?” demanded Blaine Calkins, a Conservative from Alberta.
Another Conservative, Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer, who is running for his party’s leadership, filed a complaint with the Commons ethics commissioner, Mary Dawson, who is also investigating an earlier complaint that Trudeau should not have accepted a free helicopter ride from his host in the Bahamas, the Aga Khan.
That $127,000 is a lot of money. We’ll return to it in a moment.
But first, Canadian MPs may find comfort if they look south, to Washington, New York and Palm Beach, where the mind-boggling cost of keeping Donald Trump safe and in the style to which he has become accustomed is both a political issue and a budgetary headache.
While some previous presidents made use of Camp David, the rustic government-owned retreat in Catoctin Mountain Park about 100 km from the White House, Trump prefers to hop down to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort, most weekends. Each time, the cost to taxpayers is at least $3-million. Of that, the presidential aircraft, Air Force One, accounts for an estimated $824,000 (four hours flying time at $206,000 per hour).
Add to that the cost of backup aircraft and helicopters, an armed gunboat at $1,500 per hour to patrol the waters off Mar-a-Lago, food, lodging and overtime for Secret Service personnel for round-the-clock protection, plus travel costs for White House staffers, including the fellow who carries the nuclear football, not to mention an aircraft to bring Melania Trump from New York where she lives with their son, Barron, in a three-storey penthouse in Trump Tower.
Melania and Barron, of course, have 24-hour Secret Service protection in New York, reinforced by city police. According to a breakdown made by the Washington Post, New York police spend about $300,000 a day safeguarding Trump Tower when the president is there. On days when only his wife and son are there, the daily cost drops to something between $127,000 and $145,000.
Then there is protection for Trump’s other children. Earlier this year, Eric Trump went to Uruguay to promote a new Trump-brand condo tower. The hotel bills for Secret Service and U.S. Embassy personnel came to nearly $100,000.
Not surprisingly, the Secret Service is making a plea for more money in Washington’s 2018 budget. The agency wants an additional $60 million – $27-million to protect the Trumps and $33-million for unanticipated travel costs. It may well not get the money out of Congress, in which case it would have to cut back on other activities, such as investigating cybercrime and counterfeiting.
The $127, 000 bill for Trudeau’s Bahamas jaunt seems picayune in comparison to the costs run up by the family Trump. But Canadian parliamentarians and, I suspect, most voters area not yet accustomed or reconciled to the real costs of protecting our leaders.
The deadly terrorist incident at Westminster in London last week underscores the fact that the world has changed. We live in dangerous times. Our leaders are in danger whether they are at work or on holiday. The prime minister can no longer travel on commercial airline flights, and he must be protected wherever he is.
That costs money. It has become part of the overhead of democracy.
For what it’s worth, democracy is more costly in the United States. A conservative group, Judicial Watch, calculated that Barack Obama’s family vacation expenses totaled nearly $97 million over eight years. The Washington Post has projected that if Donald Trump’s travel and protection expenses continue at their current rate, the bill for four years will be a staggering $526-million. One-half billion!
Justin Trudeau is a pretty cheap date.