Staff sent well in advance to interview luxury hotels, ask for upgrades, preview rooms and menus
Before Brad Wall goes on a trip, highly paid staff go first to make sure everything will be to Wall’s liking.
Their trips include extensive time touring multiple luxury hotels in each city to select where the premier will stay, including meeting with hotel management to ask if they’ll give Wall an upgrade and to request a member of the hotel staff be assigned to the premier's delegation and reachable by cell phone 24-hours a day. The travel scouts view the locations of meals and events the premier will attend, asking about seating arrangements and menus. They have also arranged an additional car so the premier doesn’t have to ride with the rest of his delegation.
The trips are usually taken over a month in advance by two senior government staff making approximately $116,000 and $161,000 per year. Information about the premier’s travel scouts was obtained by the Opposition New Democrats via freedom of information laws.
“This defies good Saskatchewan common sense, and it reeks of a massive sense of entitlement,” said Cam Broten, leader` of the official Opposition. “First, the basic logistics around hotel selection, dress code and car rentals can and should be done over email, Skype and with the help of our Canadian embassies. Second, it’s entirely unacceptable to spend thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars to send staff all over the world to sort out where the VIP lounges are, what the menu will be, how many tickets they can get for cocktail receptions, and which hotel will offer the most luxurious upgrades.”
The premier's travel scouts spend little time meeting with the officials and corporations Wall plans to meet with. When they do, they ask about seating arrangements, menu plans, and if the premier’s personal photographer will be allowed to take photos. They report back on recommended attire, who will carry the delegation’s bags and who will take them to the VIP lounge. One entry in the internal documents laments that the premier's delegation will be taken quickly through the "facilities that regular passengers use,” because there is no VIP terminal in a particular airport.
In one example, prior to visiting Asia in September and October 2013, Wall’s travel scouts spent 16 days there in August for a total cost of $23,493.76. In four cities, they toured and interviewed the management of nine hotels to select where the premier would sleep.
Former Alberta premier Alison Redford was caught in June 2014 having one staff person advance her trips to check out hotels, meeting venues and restaurants and undertake logistical preparations for Redford's trips. Despite the scandal created by that revelation about Redford, Wall neither came clean on his similar operation and expenses, nor did he stop.
Prior to Wall’s October 2014 visit to India, the same two staffers went on a week-long advance trip in September, costing taxpayers $13,908.78. In India, the advance staff appears to have interviewed and toured nine hotels in three cities before determining where the premier would stay.
That advance trip isn’t mentioned and does not appear to be factored into the final price of the Asia mission in the government's public disclosure of travel expenses.
“This is the government that just slashed the Saskatchewan Employment Supplement for low-income working families, took thousands of middle-class seniors off the drug plan and scrapped a program that supports youth with cognitive disabilities,” said Broten. “The Sask. Party government says it doesn't have money for the things that really matter, yet Mr. Wall has no problem sending two travel scouts all over the world to make sure everything is to his liking on his trips. These misplaced priorities and bad choices need to end.”