Industry Canada awarded a contract to an English chauffeur specializing in tours of the Downton Abbey castle of TV fame, according to accounts tabled in Parliament. Officials offered contradictory explanations for the billing to taxpayers.
Department of Industry records show a $4,218 contract was awarded to British Heritage Chauffeur Tours which promises “tailor-made luxury tours” by Jaguar sedan with “chauffer guides who are second to none”. The tour company’s specialty is private visits to “England’s finest houses, palaces and castles” including Highclere Castle, film set of the Downton Abbey television series.
“Let them come and explain this,” said MP Judy Sgro, Liberal industry critic, who requested the accounts in the Commons. “Does this meet the test of economic development? I’d like them to try and justify this.”
The contract was awarded for an unspecified rental on July 16, 2014, documents show. The company did not comment. Six members of the government caucus were in London at the time for the Farnborough Air Show: Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversificaton; Public Works Minister Diane Finley; Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel; and three unnamed MPs.
Industry Canada when contacted by Blacklock’s claimed its Commons tabling was incorrect, and that actual spending on the English chauffeur was about half the figure reported to Parliament. The department would not divulge invoices detailing the expense.
Nothing About An Airport Shuttle
One official insisted British Heritage Chauffeur Tours was hired to “supply a van” to shuttle MPs from London to the Farnborough airfield over three days. A second official said the contract was actually for four days’ worth of airport shuttling, and cheap at the price: “All travel options were considered and the most economical option was ultimately chosen,” said Caroline Marchildon, department spokesperson.
Chauffeur Tours runs Jaguars, a Land Rover Discovery and Mercedes Vianos, according to its website, and does not offer cut-rate airport shuttles: “We will create a tailor-made tour for you to ensure that our days together are the most memorable time you will spend in Britain,” the company writes on its website; “We own the luxury vehicles you will travel in”; “Our elite team of five gentlemen has a wealth of knowledge and experience”; “Spend either a morning or an afternoon at a truly unique English estate that has achieved global popularity as the film location of Downton Abbey.”
MP Sgro said the contract “sounds like a beautiful tour with a chauffeur as a nice addition to a trip – and taxpayers paid for it”; “Why?” said Sgro, MP for York West, Ont. “Whether it’s $5,000 or $5 million, this is taxpayers’ money. If they can’t spend $5,000 appropriately, I question how they spend the millions.”
The hiring of the English chauffeur coincided with the opening of the Downton Abbey summer season of castle tours.
By Tom Korski