Commentary: Naked Lunch,, Fraser Downs Racetrack – just some of the government’s $49.8 million in credit card charges

by Dermod Travis,


In a $46.3 billion budget, $49.8 million is chump change, but the B.C. government’s 84,346 credit card charges in 2015-16 do offer some insights into how the B.C. government spends on the run.

While the number of charges is down from 102,418 in 2014-15, the dollar value is up from $45.1 million. Why the jump? Forest fires.

Among last year’s big users of plastic were Children and Family Development ($5.29 million), Justice ($7.18 million) and Forests, Land, and Natural Resource Operations ($12 million).

More than 700 transactions were for less than $5.00, including 14 at iTunes ($33.50) and a $1.04 charge at Finance with the Globe and Mail.

There were 1,367 charges for $5,000 or more. The largest? A $97,296 charge at Woodlands Inn by Forests, Land, and Natural Resource Operations.

Single biggest expense? Air travel at $13.96 million.

The more popular domestic airlines were Harbour Air ($1.85 million), Helijet ($2.35 million) and Air Canada ($5.99 million).

Foreign carriers included: Korean Air ($15,645), Cathay Pacific ($21,442) and Air China ($33,200).

The ministry passing through customs the most overseas was Education ($76,885), not International Trade ($36,635).

Alaska Airlines was popular at Energy and Mines ($11,281), although the bill should likely be sent to Imperial Metals.

A good number of those trips were by the minister, Bill Bennett, to Juneau, Alaska to try and soothe Alaskan angst over the 2014 Mount Polley Mine disaster.

Add on another $644,000 in charges at travel agencies, including: Corporate Traveller Fraser ($28,624), Marlin Travel ($74,261) and Uniglobe ($107,380).

There was a $1,713 charge at Sunwing Vacations.

Among the more popular hotel choices: Holiday Inn ($122,958), Fairmont ($159,811), Sandman ($228,354) and the Ritz ($6,956).

Not that one. Most probably, the Ritz Motel in Radium Hot Springs.

Community, Sport, and Cultural Development charged $10,752 at Pacific Inn Resort.

Tolls for the Port Mann ($83,301) and Golden Ears ($3,212) bridges found their way onto the government’s plastic.

Eighteen ministries chipped in to make the #BCTech summit a success ($34,988) and 13 ministries for the 2015 LNG Conference ($63,392).

Purdy’s Chocolates ($7,453) was the choice over Rogers Chocolates ($833), 7-Eleven ($14,302) was more popular than Mac’s ($1,511) and Kal-Tire $90,346 over Fountain Tire ($29,377).

Fast food faves included: A&W ($8,161), McDonald’s ($18,362), Boston Pizza ($64,454) and Tim Hortons ($70,604).

For something more formal, ministries looked to the Cactus Club ($4,081), Joey’s ($7,617) and Earl’s ($22,253).

Forests, Land, and Natural Resource Operations spent $1,597 with Mother Nature. Can’t hurt.

The ministry’s culinary choices suggest there are very few vegans and vegetarians among their ranks.

Fine dining was the prescription at the Health ministry with a $1,632 charge at Zambri’s and two charges totalling $3,760 at Hawksworth in Vancouver’s Rosewood Hotel Georgia.

Count on Children and Family Development to go five star when three stars would do.

The ministry billed $1,107 at the Super 8 Hotel in Victoria – suspect not for staff – and $6,218 at Victoria’s Parkside Hotel & Spa – likely not for clients.

Other choices included the Georgian Court Hotel ($289), Oak Bay Beach Hotel ($435), Granville Island Hotel ($1,614) and the Four Seasons Hotel ($450).

Only six ministries had charges at casinos. Children and Family Development was tops at $5,275.

For the second year running, nearly two-thirds of the government’s ($27,508) charges at golf clubs and pro-shops was by the ministry ($17,231).

Other charges included $445 at Lululemon and $5,311 at Pacific Leather Fur.

They also charged $57 at Open Box – a term that doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of the ministry – and Finance charged $84 at Great Little Box, a term that might fit the bean counters.

It must be tough to keep track of Finance minister Mike de Jong.

Last year he had the second highest travel expenses in cabinet at $78,090, which may explain the $1,192 charge at Tracking the World, a GPS tracking software for “business, law enforcement, covert and personal use.”

Air travel came in at $632,802, including Philippine Airlines ($1,269), Emirates ($1,749) and Air France ($5,767).

Betting on the ponies may have been on the table as a way to help balance the budget if the $342 charge at Fraser Downs Racetrack is any indication.

There were also charges at Dale Carnegie Training ($2,537), Harbour House ($685), the Royal York Hotel ($2,844) and the Union Club ($6,980).

LNG minister Rich Coleman wasn’t far behind de Jong in the travel sweepstakes at $65,826.

Perhaps preparing for the inevitable, the ministry charged $4,938 at Shred-It. LNG? What LNG?

Transportation and Infrastructure spent $1,280 at

Something to do with Twitter hashtags, otherwise it would have been a Justice ministry charge.

Justice did charge $18,764 at Voyageur Soap & Candle and $516 at Scooby’s Dog Waste Removal.

Fittingly, the only charge in government at ($106) was at Small Business and Red Tape Reduction.

There were also charges at Miracle Ear ($1,755) and Lakeside Hearing ($672).

At $1.1 million, International Trade was way down the leader board for total charges, but oh so more exotic.

Exotissimo Travel ($1,167) fits that bill. The agency has since changed its name to EXO Travel.

The ministry accounted for $93,610 of the government’s $109,190 tab at the Four Seasons Hotels and all of its charges at Shenzhen’s Shangri-la Hotel ($18,960).

Advanced Education charged $34,490 at Salesforce, Google AdWords ($23,504) and Facebook ($63,804).

Spending an average of $645 per day on airfares, the premier’s office is rarely grounded.

Floats and whirlybirds accounted for the bulk of the $235,447 tab, with Seair Seaplanes at $5,353, Helijet ($44,245) and Harbour Air ($66,043).

The office also charged $1,205 at Shred-It. That’s a lot of Post-it notes.

Across all ministries, total charges at Shred-It rang it at $143,505 and that’s on top of its $136,822 in billings.

Eight ministries and the Public Service Agency charged $33,836 at Psychometrics Canada, which provides “psychometric tests and personality assessments for developing the best people for every job.”

Given the recent actions of some of the government’s political staff, one wonders what instructions are being provided to Psychometrics.

The government has two psychometricians on staff.

There were six charges at Smokescreen Graphics ($1,602) and, surprisingly enough, not one of them by the Government Communications and Public Engagement Office. Smokescreen is in the promotional products business.

As bears – particularly grizzlies – could tell government, ordering take out from Friends of Bears ($2,345) doesn’t make you so.

Oddly, it was two different ministries that respectively billed $927 at Naked Lunch and $1,716 at Keep Your Shirt On.


Dermod Travis is the executive director at IntegrityBC.


Note: All charges are drawn from the government’s quarterly releases of credit card charges.

Figures do not include billings on government accounts, the charges of Crown corporations or government agencies. Travel totals include 11,583 business transaction account charges.