Pandemic Travel Expenses

The CBRM has published its latest travel expense data for council and senior staff and, as you might expect, given the pandemic, people weren’t traveling much.

Council had begun meeting by video/teleconference in March 2020, the Atlantic Bubble was instituted on 3 July and popped on 26 November 2020, and travel outside of the Atlantic provinces was discouraged during much of 2020 and would have involved 14 days of self-isolation upon return. And yet, some intrepid souls still managed to travel.

(For the record, I’m focusing on those who claimed travel expenses plus accommodations and/or meals between April and December 2020. I’m assuming anyone traveling in March did so before the state of emergency was declared on March 22.)

Former Mayor Cecil Clarke, although in the middle of his re-election campaign, seems to have gotten away in July — claiming $994.12 in travel expenses, $125.41 in accommodations and $206 in meals — and then again in September — $711.90 in travel expenses, $339.06 in accommodations and $106 in meals.

I have no idea when in July and September he traveled, where he went, why he went, what form of transportation he took, what portion of the travel expenses represents travel within CBRM and what represents travel outside CBRM, because that is not information the CBRM sees fit to share with us. We will probably never know what municipal business required Clarke to travel at these times.

Former District 12 Councilor Jim MacLeod, who did not run for re-election in October 2020, did some traveling in September, claiming $1,344.44 in travel expenses, $440.64 in accommodations and $315 in meals. Again, there is no breakdown of these expenses, so I have no idea whether this represents one trip or multiple trips, nor can I tell you what municipal business the councilor was taking care of.

Wayne MacDonald, director of engineering and public works, traveled in July, claiming $1,296.76 in travel expenses, nothing in accommodations and $188.75 in meals. Again, no breakdown, so perhaps he was simply driving around the CBRM inspecting the infrastructure, I can’t tell you.

And finally, Clarke’s right-hand man, Mark Bettens, didn’t let a pandemic clip his wings.

A quick refresher: Bettens was hired in 2012, without a job competition to fill a position Clarke invented for him. In 2019 alone, Bettens, racked up $16,422.98 in travel expenses — more than any mayor or warden in Nova Scotia except Clarke and Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, more than any CBRM councilor except Deputy Mayor Ivan Doncaster and more than any CAO in the province except Halifax’s high-flying Jacques Dubé.

As I’ve said before, the website where the CBRM posts this information is called the DatazONE, not the InformationzONE, so I guess I shouldn’t be disappointed at how little detail we’re provided.