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They stayed at an ‘absolute gem’ of a Dublin hotel. Now these councillors face questions

The City of Brampton is facing questions about how it spends taxpayer dollars after two councillors and three senior staff were sent on an investment trip to Ireland, where they spent more than $60,000 over roughly five days on expenses that included hotels, travel and food.

Global News obtained hundreds of pages of receipts relating to a Brampton investment attraction mission to Dublin, Ireland, in the spring of 2023, which suggests an average cost of around $2,500 per person every day of the trip.

The documents show two councillors — Michael Palleschi and Dennis Keenan — along with three senior staff went on the short trip. The two councillors spent just under $4,000 each on their flights, while all five delegates stayed at what is described as a “five-star” hotel at roughly $700 per person per night.

The city said the trip was part of its long-term investment strategy and will pay dividends over time.

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A spokesperson told Global News that Irish businesses have shown interest in investing in Brampton, an interest that has “resulted in business investment and others being at the site selection phase.”

The city also said the trip resulted in a memorandum of understanding with the Guinness Enterprise Centre, with the entrepreneurial hub visiting the city during the winter, along with various meetings and networking opportunities.

“This is expected to result in Irish Start-ups joining Brampton’s Innovation District, a supportive ecosystem with a sharp focus on start-up scaling, investment attraction and talent development,” the city said.

Jay Goldberg, Ontario director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, told Global News the bill was a “heck of a lot of money” for local Brampton residents to be paying.

“There’s questions about if all five individuals were needed,” he said. “And on top of that, there has to be some accountability after the trip. What did the trip generate? What do we hope to generate through the trip and what was actually accomplished?”

‘Dublin’s friendliest five star hotel’

Receipts obtained by Global News show that Coun. Palleschi, Coun. Keenan and three staff members all stayed at the Fitz William Hotel in Dublin’s city centre.

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The hotel’s website describes it as “a refreshingly quirky, unbelievably friendly, perfectly-located absolute gem of a 5-star hotel.”

Staff and councillors stayed in the hotel for a varying number of nights, paying a group rate of 479 euros (roughly $700) per person, per night. The documents show each councillor paid roughly $3,500 each in hotel fees, while one member of the city’s economic development team wracked up a hotel bill worth over $5,500 during a slightly longer stay.

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“That is certainly not the most affordable hotel room,” Goldberg said.

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“I’ve been to Dublin and I can tell you we paid nowhere near that for a very nice hotel room. There’s absolutely no reason why Brampton taxpayers should be on the hook for that. And if you multiply that by the five individuals that go, look at how much was spent just on one night for these hotel rooms, let alone for the whole trip.”

The city said that before the trip economic development staff had “contacted” three potential hotels before the trip took place.

“The location selected was based on the lowest price and proximity to the conference and meetings,” a spokesperson said.

The two councillors added, in identical statements, that “it was recommended that the international delegation stay at the same location.”

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Emails obtained by Global News also show that, at one point, Coun. Palleschi planned to bring his assistant on the trip with him, with an additional room booked in the five-star hotel.

“I planned to have my assistant join the trip to provide administrative, communication and logistical support,” Palleschi wrote. “Due to last minute changes, the assistant did not attend the trip.”

That room was cancelled before the trip took place, the documents show.

‘Premium economy’

The trove of receipts obtained by Global News also shows that the flights for both Coun. Palleschi and Coun. Keenen cost almost twice what staff members paid.

The two elected officials said, despite the higher price, they flew premium economy.

Both Coun. Palleschi and Keenan booked their tickets through a Mississauga-based agent called Allround Links Travel. They paid $3,965 each for direct return tickets from Toronto Pearson International Airport to Dublin.

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The councillors shared identical statements with Global News: “I flew Premium Economy class, and paid the market rate for the selected flight.”

By comparison, one economic development staff member paid $1,318.90 to fly Aerlingus and another paid $2,618.16 to travel with Air Canada. The final staff member booked through the same agency as the councillors but paid $1,950, according to the receipts seen by Global News.

Goldberg said he didn’t understand how the politicians could have paid so much more than staff for their flights if they weren’t upgraded in some capacity, something both councillors deny.

The city said its expense policy dictates air and train fare should be paid at economy class, or the best rate available when travel is confirmed.

“Upgrades from economy class for Members of Council will be acceptable for non-North American air travel to no higher than business class in recognition of travel times involved (if in excess of 5 hours of travel time),” part of the policy explains.

Neither Coun. Keenan nor Coun. Palleschi’s spending on the trip appears on their publicly listed expense reports, which can be accessed by voters and residents.

“Economic Development covers the costs of these investment attraction missions through their budget, approved by Council through the annual budget process,” both wrote in identical statements.

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Goldberg said it shouldn’t require the time and cost of a freedom of information request to find out what councillors — and staff — are charging the taxpayer.

Trip objectives

A spokesperson for the City of Brampton said the was long-planned and part of a strategy to net investment from Ireland that started with a virtual approach in 2021 during the pandemic.

The in-person trip, attended by the two councillors and three staff members, saw the delegation meet with 250 new contacts, according to the city.
“Corporate calls were also carried out with businesses interested in investing which have resulted in business investment and others being at the site selection phase,” the spokesperson said.

According to broad itineraries, also obtained by Global News, the city had a booth at the Dublin Tech Summit costing $20,000. Staff and councillors also paid 430.50 EUR ($630) each to attend an event called the Medtech Forum.

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The city said the tech conference “provides Brampton with access to global leaders in innovation, technology and business,” something the city said is “critical” to creating an “international network” and raising “Brampton’s profile on the global stage.”

“This was accomplished during this trip by attending and speaking at events,” the city said.

The receipts obtained by Global News come to a total value of around $63,000 in Canadian currency, although many of the receipts were paid in euros. The documents show all receipts filed with the city but do not indicate if all of them were reimbursed.

The city said its economic development budget for the upcoming year is $6.9 million.

Goldberg said he wanted a clear and transparent breakdown of tangible goals and successes.

“There’s got to be justification here,” he said.

“I think it has to be laid out before the fact exactly what’s happening overseas, what are the potential economic benefits that they’re hoping to pursue? What companies are they hoping to talk to? And what are some actual goals that we can measure after the trip? These are things that folks do in the private sector all the time.”

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