Saskatchewan cabinet minister faces questions over sightseeing on Paris work trip

REGINA — Saskatchewan’s Opposition says a cabinet minister should give his head a shake for using public money to sightsee around Paris, checking out Napoleon’s Tomb, when he was supposed to be at a conference.

Minister Dustin Duncan, however, says the trip was all work and adds he’s not even a big fan of the famous French emperor and military commander.

The NDP released invoices Tuesday filed by Duncan, the minister in charge of the province’s natural gas utility, relating to a trip last year to Paris.

The receipts indicate Duncan billed taxpayers for a chauffeur to take him around the city when he was supposed to be touring pavilions at the World Nuclear Expo, a trade show and conference on nuclear energy.

The invoices indicate Duncan billed about $3,500 for the chauffeur over five days, at a cost of $700 per day.

"People hate this stuff," NDP critic Aleana Young said during question period.

"Does the minister think it was a justifiable use of public dollars to spend $3,500 on a luxurious Parisian chauffeur to tour him around Paris?"

Duncan denied he was sightseeing.

"I can assure the house this was a work trip," he told the assembly.

Duncan’s travel schedule indicated he was to tour pavilions at the conference from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 29. The chauffeur log says he was picked up at Napoleon’s tomb at 2:30 p.m.

Duncan told reporters he went to the tomb and accompanying museum, instead of staying at the conference, because he wanted some personal time.

"That was really just a placeholder in the schedule in the event that we wanted to walk around in the pavilions, which we did on multiple days," he said.

He said he was at the museum for about an hour and paid for his own meal and taxi to get there. He then returned to the conference.

"I’m not a big Napoleon fan, frankly," he said.

"It was just really the fact that we had meetings in the morning, we had meetings later in the afternoon.

“So, really, the options were to go back to my hotel and sit there for four hours, walk around the pavilion ... or just taking some downtime."

He said he and his staff hired a Mercedes−Benz van and chose not to take taxis because it was an easier way to get around and ensured he got to meetings on time.

The travel log says he was picked up at the Arc de Triomphe landmark at around 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 29.

Duncan said the location was only a pickup point, as he had a business meeting not that far away.

"We did agree with the driver to (go to) a recognizable landmark nearby the restaurant," he said.

Young told reporters she takes no issue with the minister being at the conference, but said he could have taken other modes of transportation.

"There’s doing the work you’re there to do, not hiring a private car service to take you to Paris," she said.

Duncan’s travel logs also say two people were registered to his hotel room.

The minister said no one else stayed with him and doesn’t know why the log says that.

"I can assure you, there was only one person in my room," he said.

"Perhaps I asked for two (room key) cards or something like that. I did not have a family member with me, much to the chagrin of my wife."

Duncan has been at the centre of a conflict between Ottawa over Saskatchewan not remitting the carbon levy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2024.

Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press

Photo: room key