While government programs and unnecessary expenses were being chopped, the head of the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch took a six-day, $8,155 business trip to Bordeaux and London. But the government has said that trip, during which Jay Chambers attended an international wine and spirits exhibition, was necessary to track industry trends and contact liquor suppliers. According to records obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request, Mr. Chambers stayed for five nights at the retro-futuristic Seeko'o hotel during his time at Bordeaux's Vinexpo 2009 - which got underway on June 21. The price tag for the stay: $2,572.
The government has said, in keeping with past practice, it didn't select the hotel.
Instead, it was the French wine industry that made that choice due to the difficulty of booking accommodations during Vinexpo. So what did Mr. Chambers do at the exhibition, which is largest trade show of its kind?
Well, in addition to checking out offerings from dozens of international wine and spirit makers, the records show Mr. Chambers was scheduled to have dinner meetings with French vintners Jeane Claude-Mas and James Sichel, as well as pre-taste Bordeaux's 2008 wines.
After that, Mr. Chambers jetted to the United Kingdom on June 25 for 14 days - 12 of which he spent on his own dime, vacationing with his wife.
In a memo seeking authorization for the European trip, Mr. Chambers wrote his stay over in London would give him an opportunity to tour the city's leading liquor retailers.
"London is recognized as not only the centre of the international wine trade," he wrote, "but also as home to many of the world's prominent retailers of fine wine."
As a result, it's "one of the few cities in the world where product selection is as broad as that found in British Columbia," providing "an excellent comparable retail environment."
The trip was approved by the ministry of housing and social development in November - before the province's books were hit by the economic downturn.
But the government has said it didn't cancel the trip due to the downturn because it was important for liquor distribution branch staff to attend Vinexpo anyway - just like other provincial liquor authorities do.
In addition to Mr. Chambers, the branch sent three other employees to the exhibition at a cost of $22,424.
They included purchasing director Michael Procopio and portfolio managers Barbara Philips and David Hopgood.
The branch has sent representatives to the past five Vinexpos, which take place on a biennial basis.
Select expenses from Jay Chambers's European trip
Flights - $3,882
Seeko'o hotel (Bordeaux, five nights) - $2,572
The Luna Simone Hotel (London, two nights) - $392.58
Meals (Bordeaux) - $595.75 *
Meals (London) - $309.25
* = Some meals in Bordeaux were provided by liquor suppliers.