A refugee camp and a game park hotel: Bev Oda goes to Africa

The former minister charged taxpayers for hefty rebooking fees
International Cooperation Minister Bev prepares to testify before the Commons foreign affairs committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday Dec. 11, 2007. The committee was hearing witnesses on Afghan mission. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Sean Kilpatrick/CP Images

In the middle of a five-day visit to East Africa in 2011 to assess the effects of a devastating famine and to meet members of the new government in South Sudan, then Minister of International Cooperation Bev Oda switched hotels in Nairobi so she could stay at one adjacent to a game park.

A source familiar with the advance plans for Oda’s trip said the former minister’s schedule was structured to allow her time to go on safari.

Documents released under the Access-to-Information Act seem to confirm this. They also show that flight changes for Oda and her staff — which extended the trip and gave the now-retired politician a day at the game park hotel with no official business to attend to — cost taxpayers $2,000.

Oda and three other governent employees arrived in Nairobi on July 20 and checked into the luxury Tribe Hotel in Nairobi’s diplomatic district. Oda had meetings on July 21. On July 22, she and other Canadian officials chartered a plane (at a cost of more than $6,000) to visit the Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya.

On July 23, Oda moved to the Ole Sereni Hotel, which bills itself as “the city hotel by the game park” and offers guests trips to nearby Nairobi National Park. She had no official business scheduled that day. Oda attended a press conference with the World Food Program’s executive director the following day, July 24. On July 25, she took a day trip to Juba, South Sudan, before boarding a return flight to Canada that evening.

Access-to-Information documents show that a draft schedule, dated July 15, would have had her visit Juba on July 23 and return to Canada on July 24. Tickets to Nairobi were already bought matching this schedule. Changing the tickets resulted in hefty rebooking fees.

Margaux Stastny, spokeswoman for current Minister of International Development Christian Paradis, said in an email that the government is “not aware of the specific activities of [Oda],” and that it is “our understanding” that Oda made the schedule changes.

She did not answer questions from Maclean’s about why those changes were made, or whether Oda visited a game park while in Africa on government business. Maclean’s left a message at a number it believes to be Oda’s home, but the call was not returned.