TORONTO -- A senior government official racked up more than $400,000 in travel expenses over three years globetrotting the planet to exotic locations such as Chile, Peru, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, Sun Media has learned.
Lorraine (Lori) Ridgeway, director general for international policy and integration for the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, checked in to luxury hotels and seaside resorts such as the Shangri-la as she travelled the world for workshops, meetings and conferences. Cities such as New York, Paris and Rome were also on her frequent flyer routes, documents released under Access to Information show.
Some of the marathon jaunts took in several destinations, countries and continents and some took her away from her Ottawa base for a month or more at a time. Flights for the three years cost $195,411, hotels were $106,490 and meals were $36,444. Incidental costs, such as taxis, drove the total tab over the $400,000 mark.
Ridgeway insists her department turns down more invitations than it accepts, and says she tacks on side-trips with key meetings to maximize the value for tax dollars spent.
"We're being selective in what we do, we trim our delegations back as much as we can, we combine trips where we can. So that looks bad, but it's actually a cost saving," she said.
Several trips with multiple destinations cost more than $20,000 each.
Most of Ridgeway's flights are in business class, and while she has used upgrade certificates in the past she pointed to government rules that allow seating in the comfortable front-row section.
"I am in compliance with the international travel directives," she said. "We take business when you are at a certain level and when the travel is over eight hours.
"I can spend as high as 36 hours in travel trajectory. The Treasury Board rules govern what I do."
Ridgeway, who negotiates on Canada's behalf at the international level, said her job requires her and others in the department to travel extensively to promote and advance Canada's position on fisheries and oceans in an "organized and strategic" manner. A presence at these meetings gives Canada a crack at controlling the agenda for establishing international rules and standards.
With the current economic climate, Ridgeway said the directive on travel is to be "very, very prudent." Some trips will be cut and others will send fewer delegates than in past.
While Ridgeway's travel expenses might seem steep, she insists none are "frivolous" and believes she is likely in line with other bureaucrats in similar posts.
"I think if you went into any department in any international function you will find it not unlike this," she said. "We are not wasting money. Everything I'm doing is certainly within, and stands up against, the guidelines and we do not do stuff that we think would be frivolous.
"I understand for the average Canadian ... it seems high. But you need to understand that this is what my job is."