The federal government spent almost $600,000 to host European delegates in luxury Vancouver hotel rooms for a conference many did not end up attending. 

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly is an annual meeting that typically takes place in Europe, but was hosted in Vancouver from June 30 to July 4 last year. 

Of the 700 European parliamentarians who were invited, almost half of them didn’t attend the conference or chose less expensive hotels to stay in if they did. 

Canadian taxpayers were left to foot the bill for 1,400 overnight stays, which cost a minimum of $425 per night, for a total of $596,000. 

“It is very concerning, especially in the current economic times, when people are lined up at food banks while we’re looking at a $1.8 million event that went 35% over budget,” Conservative senator Elizabeth Marshall told parliamentary officials during the Senate’s internal economy, budgets and administration committee. “That does not look good on either the Senate or the House of Commons.”

Additionally, the audio-visual costs for the conference far surpassed the initial budget of $1.8 million, coming in $649,000 over budget.

“I’m not sure how we can just … sugarcoat this and pass this off,” Sen. Don Plett told the committee. “A deficit of over a half a million dollars.”

The decision to host the conference was defended by Liberal MP Hedy Fry, who said the initial costs were projected to be much lower than what they ultimately ended up being. 

“We had a pretty normal delegate showing, and then, for whatever reason, people just didn’t turn up,” Fry told CBC News. “I think one of the reasons, we found out later on, was that also our hotel rooms had increased since pre-pandemic. The cost of hotels in Vancouver just shot up post-pandemic.”

Fry said that the government was unable to get out of their hotel contracts and that in the future, it will be more cautious not to book hotel rooms until the delegates confirm that they will be in attendance. 

She also said that delegates who cancel with little notice should be financially responsible for paying for those accommodations. 

Canada last hosted the conference in Ottawa in 1995. When Parliament, rather than the government, hosts an international conference, the House of Commons is responsible for 70% of its costs and the Senate pays the remaining 30%.

The conference had initially been scheduled for 2020 but was postponed because of the pandemic. 

Hotel rooms were booked at the Hyatt Regency, the Pinnacle Hotel Harbourfront, the Fairmont Pacific Rim, the Fairmont Waterfront, and the Marriott Vancouver Pinnacle Downtown, all in close proximity to the Vancouver Convention Centre where the conference was held.  

The rate of the rooms was not made public, however, four- or five- star hotels cost anywhere from $425 to $1,024 per night for that time of the year.