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Metro Vancouver chair's flights cost thousands extra to accommodate travel partner

New Westminster city councillor Daniel Fontaine says extra costs incurred to incorporate personal travel on work trips for Metro Vancouver ought to be accounted for and reimbursed.
Delta Mayor George Harvie
Delta Mayor George Harvie.

Metro Vancouver taxpayers spent thousands of dollars for board chair George Harvie to accommodate a travel partner on his travel itinerary last October, according to receipts obtained by Glacier Media.

Harvie’s travel expenses to attend an urban planning conference in Australia had previously raised questions because his business class flight expenses were nearly double those of his colleagues; and, hotel costs appeared high as well.

When asked last month about the costs for board travel — which more than doubled in 2023, compared to 2019 — Harvie had stated his expenses to Australia did not include a second person.

However, receipts for the flights show Harvie paid $8,920.96 for one one-way flight from Vancouver to Brisbane on Oct. 7 and $18,218.20 for two one-way flights from Sydney to Vancouver on Oct. 18, for a total of $27,139.16. Harvie expensed only $17,336.50 — the cost of his two one-way tickets, to and from Australia.

While Harvie did not explicitly expense costs for a travel partner, as a result of booking what’s called an open jaw ticket for separate destinations, extra costs were incurred by the Delta mayor for attending the 2023 Asia Pacific Cities Summit and Mayors Forum from Oct. 11 to Oct. 13.

It’s unclear who travelled with Harvie on the return leg, as the travel partner's name is redacted on the receipt obtained through a freedom of information request. A photo posted on Oct. 10, 2023 on Instagram by Harvie’s wife shows her holding a koala bear. Glacier Media and Delta Optimist tried to reach Harvie for comment and none was provided by publication time. 

By contrast, Anmore Mayor John McEwan’s flights cost $9,166.12 and Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West’s flights cost $10,165.25.

McEwan booked on May 31, West booked on June 19 and Harvie booked on July 27, according to Metro Vancouver spokesperson Jillian Glover, who told Glacier Media the price fluctuations are a result of the time of booking and Harvie’s trip comprising two one-way tickets.

Glacier Media also obtained the receipts for Harvie’s accommodation in Brisbane. The publicly available expense record shows Harvie expensed $2,885.14 for accommodation for “2023 Asia Pacific Cities Summit & Mayors' Forum - Brisbane, AU - October 11 - 13, 2023.”

The conference website indicates it took place over those three days.

Harvie’s receipts show expenses for six nights at the Brisbane Convention Centre Hotel, at a rate of about $450 per night.

West’s accommodation costs were just over $2,100 and McEwan’s were about $1,400. McEwan’s accommodations were listed for “October 7 - 18, 2023” whereas West’s did not specify.

Harvie earns $105,000 as Metro Vancouver's board chair and $175,264 as Delta's mayor. 

Another question raised by the expense receipts is how board members may use their personal points accounts to book travel. For example, Harvie used his Aeroplan account to book flights and because he booked business class he accumulated 1.5 points per mile. It’s unclear what points may have been accumulated with the use of a credit card, as well.

Metro Vancouver has no travel policy for travel points, said Glover.

In 2023, the board expensed $98,170 on air travel. Were Metro Vancouver to process payments itself for board member flights, it could accumulate its own points and conceivably save thousands of dollars on future flights.

Glover also directed Glacier Media to Metro Vancouver’s board expense policy.

The policy states, among other things, that international flights may be booked as business class and expenses are approved by the chair.

The policy has six general provisions, including that: “Travellers are expected to minimize expenses and travel time such as overnight stays wherever possible based upon the particular circumstances of their travel.”

The policy also states: “The lowest available fares applicable or appropriate to particular itineraries shall be sought and bookings shall be made as far in advance as possible.”

New Westminster city councillor Daniel Fontaine said it appears to him that Harvie did not follow "the spirit" of the policies.

“The expense incurred beyond what the other delegates incurred should have been paid for personally, in my opinion, given that the extra expense was incurred to accommodate family vacation,” Fontaine told Glacier Media.

Fontaine suggests Metro Vancouver “tighten up” its travel policies.

This week, at least three Metro Vancouver board members are attending an international conference on drainage in the Netherlands. West, McEwan and Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie had booked flights costing over $5,000 each, according to expense reports. Those costs are not nearly as high as Harvie’s $21,212.56 flight to Singapore last February, to attend the Canada-in-Asia Conference where he stayed at the Pan Pacific Singapore.

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