Canadian Taxpayers spent $161,000 for photographers to take images of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan on his many national and international trips in what the Liberal government says is proof that Canada is re-engaging on the world stage.
That cost covers only travel and accommodations for the military photographers and does not include their salaries.
The amount covers 26 trips since late 2015 to locations such as India, Trenton, Yellowknife, Brussels, Ukraine, Latvia, Iraq and Africa.
The photographers accompanied the minister on the trips and are not assigned to specific military operations.
The Canadian Forces stated in an email to Postmedia “that the photographers can travel at a moment’s notice and have the security clearances needed to take images of the minister at meetings with allies.”
Sajjan’s spokeswoman, Renée Filiatrault, said in an email that these sorts of photographers are used by the military and the minister to support communicating with the public.
“As with previous Ministers, they often accompany the Minister of Defence,” Filiatrault stated. “Our government promised to re-engage in the world and communicate openly with Canadians and we are doing just that.”
On Friday, Sajjan’s staff posted photos on Twitter throughout the day of the minister meeting NATO officials. Those images were taken by Canadian Forces photographers who accompanied the minister. That latest trip was not captured in the figures provided.
International meetings of the sort also often have official photographers assigned to events to produce imagery for the participants.
Another recent incident was in 2016 when Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was questioned for her decision to employ a professional photographer to document her work at the COP21 climate summit last fall. She later said she instructed her department to review the pricey practice.
In 2016, McKenna acknowledged that savings could be made. “Pictures are an important part of how we transmit our message, but we need to do it in a way that is mindful of taxpayers,” she told journalists. “Previous governments used photographers as well but we can do better, and that’s something I’m committed to personally.”
When he was asked about the issue at the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that such official photography was “certainly one (area) that we are looking at as perhaps not the best use of public funds.”
In 2015 iPolitics reported that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government spent more than $2.3 million to photograph Conservative cabinet ministers since it had come to power.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement defended the Harper government’s $2.3 million figure to photograph cabinet ministers. Their claim was similar, that the photos were apart of the government’s obligation to communicate with Canadians.
“The government of Canada has an obligation to communicate with the public and we take our responsibilities to taxpayers very seriously in this regard,” he told the House of Commons.
“Pictures are an important part of how we transmit our message, but we need to do it in a way that is mindful of taxpayers. Previous governments used photographers as well but we can do better, and that’s something I’m committed to personally.”
“I think there are ways that we can reduce costs,” said McKenna to the press in Ottawa.
The disclosure of McKenna’s expenses in 2016 came a week after Health Minister Jane Philpott faced backlash about her use of limousines for rides throughout the Greater Toronto Area. That disclosure resulted in a bill to taxpayers of more than $3,700, so it’s fair to say that this is not the first time that our government has been scrutinized for wasteful spending.