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Audit finds flimsy accounting for travel, booze at Canadian UN mission

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Canada’s diplomatic office at a UN agency in Montreal has been badly managed for years — and even managed to lose track of its alcohol and silverware.

“[T]he current method used to track alcohol consumed during hospitality events was not sufficiently reliable,” says a newly released audit of the Canadian mission to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

“The audit team also identified discrepancies in the crystal, chinaware dishes and cutlery inventories after performing a physical count.”

Transport Minister Marc Garneau was warned in March 2017 of problems at Canada’s mission to ICAO in Montreal. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The report says that most of the overtime and travel claims it sampled were not pre-approved, there was no proof that goods and services paid for were actually received, five hospitality claims disappeared entirely, silverware was never counted — and at least $6,000 in travel and hospitality spending wasn’t tracked at all.

“[I]t is difficult for the audit to determine why certain travel took place,” says the highly critical document.

The audit focused on operations between April 2014 and March 2017, a three-year period that followed intense lobbying in 2013 by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper to keep the ICAO in Montreal.

The UN agency, which sets global standards for aviation safety and security, came into being in 1947 and has been located in Montreal ever since. According to one estimate, the agency’s 191 member countries are bringing some $120 million in economic benefits to the city each year.

Rival bid

A rival bid by Qatar in 2013 to host the agency in Doha beginning in 2016 was dropped in the face of intense lobbying by then-Foreign Affairs minister John Baird and others. That lobbying ensured the ICAO will stay put until at least 2036.

Canada’s small mission in Montreal, with eight permanent staff and three temporary positions, devotes about half its resources to host-state duties, including securing visas and even parking for ICAO member countries.

The Liberal government was alerted to problems at the Canadian mission sometime before March 2017, when a briefing note to Transport Minister Marc Garneau warned of major “shortcomings” and the need for a full audit. CBC News obtained the note under the Access to Information Act.

The auditors ended up delivering a scathing June 2018 report, citing “haphazard” communications, “confusion” about work responsibilities, “ad hoc” procedures, “insufficient training,” a “lack of documented procedures” and missing paperwork.

The mission’s annual budget – averaging $806,000 during the audit period, and $856,488 in 2017-18 – reserves about 10 per cent for hospitality and travel.

The funding was accounted for; however, the reporting was lacking.– Transport Canada spokesperson responding to an audit of the Canadian mission to ICAO in Montreal

Among other things, the report found the mission’s accounting for those funds was flawed, citing “weaknesses in the Mission’s management controls and oversight in the areas of budget planning and monitoring, expenditure approvals, inventory management and information management.”

A spokesperson for Transport Canada, which is primarily responsible for the operation of the ICAO mission, played down the findings, saying that “the funding was accounted for; however, the reporting was lacking.”

“There was no evidence of any items that went missing, including alcohol,” Sau Sau Liu added in an email.

Performance reviews

The audit does not refer to individuals at the mission. Asked whether any staff members have been reprimanded or terminated, Liu said only that the “lack of management oversight has been addressed through the completion of regular performance reviews required within the public service.”

On April 3, 2017, the Liberal government appointed career diplomat Martial Page as the new head of the ICAO mission to help sort out the mess.

Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum, left, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, centre, and Jean-François Lisée, Quebec’s international relations minister, leave a ‘Team Montreal’ meeting at ICAO’s Montreal headquarters May 3, 2013. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Transport Canada declined CBC’s request to interview Page, whose three-year appointment ends in 2020. But the department says the mission has since strengthened management control, implemented new strategic and operations plans and created an inventory system.

“Transport Canada and Global Affairs Canada will continue to monitor progress in the implementation of measures identified and will work with the Mission to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being used effectively,” said Liu.

The audit was conducted jointly with Global Affairs Canada, which provides support and advice to the mission.

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter

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Future of Ottawa: Chefs with Kathryn Ferries

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This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Kat Ferries on the future of chefs, or read posts from Quinn Taylor on bars or Justin Champagne on fine dining.

Kat Ferries is Sous-Chef at Stofa Restaurant and a 2020 San Pellegrino North American Young Chef Social Responsibility Award Winner.

Apt613: What is the current landscape for chefs in Ottawa?

Kat Ferries: There is such great talent in Ottawa with so many chefs either being from here originally or have returned after traveling and have since opened some incredible restaurants. Many chefs have focused menus that really highlight their strengths, their heritage, and their passion for food. Dominique Dufour of Gray Jay, Marc Doiron of Town/Citizen, Steve Wall of Supply & Demand, Daniela Manrique Lucca of The Soca Kitchen, and so many more are all cooking up beautiful and delicious food in this city.

If you care to make a prediction… Where is the food industry in Ottawa going for chefs in 2021?

The industry right now is, unfortunately, in a really tough spot. The pandemic has been so devastating on mental, physical and emotional levels for so many and I know that many of my friends in this industry are burning out. There are many discussions happening on work/life balance and what is healthy for everyone. Some may never return to the long, hard hours we are expected to put in day after day and instead opt for a more flexible schedule or hire more staff to lighten the load on everyone, with some even leaving the industry indefinitely. Some may throw themselves back into this industry 10x as hard and create some of the best restaurants and concepts we’ve yet to see. I think all that will happen after the pandemic though.

For this year, it’s mostly about survival and finding happiness in creating what we can in the spaces we have while following all the laws and guidelines from public health officials. I think we will see more chefs creating experiences for guests that we otherwise wouldn’t have: think pop-ups, virtual dinner clubs, cocktail seminars, collabs, etc.

Where in your wildest dreams could the Ottawa culinary community grow in your lifetime?

I would love to see the Ottawa community support more small, local restaurants so our streets are bustling late into the nights like they are in Montreal, New York, or Europe. Having a local restaurant to frequent should be so much more commonplace, where you can enjoy a night out more often than just Friday or Saturday night. I would also love to see many more of our local chefs highlighted for the amazing food they create!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

Turning all our restaurants into mini-markets for customers to enjoy the food and wine of their favourite places at home. We have bottle shops for all your wine, beer and cocktail needs as well as menus that reflect what each restaurant does best. Some have even pivoted to a point where they are 100% a store and have paused any type of “service-style” dining.

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Future of Ottawa: Fine Dining with Justin Champagne

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This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Justin Champagne on the future of fine dining, or read posts from Kathryn Ferries on chefs or Quinn Taylor on bars.

Justin Champagne went to culinary school at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. He got his start in fine dining restaurants at C Restaurant under Chef Robert Clark, then at Hawksworth Restaurant under Chef Eligh. He staged at three-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn under Chef Dominque Crenn before moving to Ottawa and spending five years at Atelier, working his way up to Sous-Chef. He’s now the Head Chef of Bar Lupulus.

Apt613: What is the current landscape of fine dining restaurants in Ottawa?

Justin Champagne: Ottawa punches well above its weight class when it comes to quality restaurants in general. Fine dining is no exception to that—we have some amazing chefs here that are doing really great things. We also have some phenomenal sommeliers in town that are a huge factor when it comes to a guest’s experience in a fine dining restaurant. While there are some fantastic fine dining restaurants in town I do believe there’s room for more, and definitely room for more creativity and unique styles of cooking! I think we’ll see more small fine dining restaurants opening up, “micro-restaurants” where there’s maybe 20 seats. This will be over the next few weeks as the industry did take a big hit financially with COVID-19, but we still have a lot of great young chefs who have the fire inside of them to open their own location!

If you care to make a prediction… Where is fine dining going in Ottawa in 2021?

I’m not sure it’ll be 2021 or 2022 with the way the vaccine rollout and stay-at-home order is going, but I do expect there to be a wave of people looking to go out to fine dining restaurants. We’ve been cooped up cooking for ourselves or ordering takeout for over a year now. People are getting antsy and ready to go out and have fantastic meals again with exceptional wine and not have to worry about doing all the dishes afterwards!

Where in your wildest dreams could fine dining go in Ottawa in your lifetime?

That’s the fun part about “fine dining,” it can go anywhere and it can mean many things. Fine dining is about amazing service and well thought out, unique food that the kitchen spent hours fussing over, being meticulous in execution. Outside of that, you can have a lot of fun and be creative in different ways. My wildest dream I guess is that fine dinning restaurants begin to thrive and are able to charge without backlash the kind of prices that they need to charge in order to keep the lights on and pay their staff a proper living wage!!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

I’m not sure if I would really say there’s been a best “innovation” in my industry during the pandemic, but I will say that seeing the “adaptability” by all the restaurants in Ottawa has been incredibly inspiring. Ottawa’s food scene has always been a tight-knit community, “everyone helping everyone” kind of mentality. And this pandemic has really helped show that—restaurants helping restaurants through all of this!

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Ottawa’s Giant Tiger chain celebrating 60 years in business

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OTTAWA — An Ottawa staple, along with what might be the most famous cat in Canada, are celebrating a milestone Monday.

Giant Tiger is 60 years old.

“It all started with a very simple idea,” says Alison Scarlett, associate VP of communications at Giant Tiger. “Help Canadians save money every single day. Bring them products that they want and need. When you focus on those core principals, it really is quite simple to succeed.”

In 1961, Gordon Reid opened the first Giant Tiger in Ottawa’s ByWard Market. The company now has more than 260 locations across Canada and employs roughly 10,000 people.

“If you were at our store on opening day 60 years ago, the in store experience would be a little bit different from your local Giant Tiger store today. So that’s changed. A lot of our products and offerings have changed or expanded as Canadian consumers wants and needs have changed or expanded,” says Scarlett.

The homegrown department store continues to be a favourite for many shoppers looking to for the best deals on everyday products.

Helen Binda has been shopping here for decades.

“Many years. I can’t remember when. I’ve always loved Giant Tiger. It’s always been a good store for me.”

“I think its amazing and I think that we need more department stores,” says shopper Fay Ball. “And if it’s Canadian, all the better.”

The Canadian-owned family discount store carries everything from clothing to groceries, as well as everyday household needs. They’ve also expanded their online store and like most retailers provide curbside pickup during the pandemic.

“Doing what is right for our customers, associates, and communities. That has enabled us to be so successful for all of these years,” says Scarlett.

To celebrate, Giant Tiger is hosting a virtual birthday party at 7 p.m. Monday with live musical performances from some iconic Canadian artists.

You can visit their Facebook page to tune in. 

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