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Last election brought a change of flavour to the Prime Minister's residence: How the Trudeaus' monthly spending habits have differed from the Harpers'

Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau
Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau - Postmedia

The winds of change blew through the Prime Minister’s official residence following the general election of 2015. And they blew in particular through the kitchen.

Hundreds of pages of documents released by the Privy Council Office show the changes in household and grocery bills during the period when the Harper era ended and the Trudeau family moved in.

The residence itself changed, of course; the Trudeaus famously avoided 24 Sussex and moved into Rideau Cottage.

But let’s take a look at the groceries. Taxpayers pay for all the routine household expenses of the prime minister’s family, including the residence itself (plus all upkeep), groceries, decorating, coffee runs, and the odd trip to the Beer Store or LCBO.

The PMO runs tabs at a variety of food retailers, and under Stephen Harper the mainstay was Farm Boy.

The Harpers spent, on average, a little more than $1,000 a month at Farm Boy, not an exorbitant bill for a family with growing children. They also made smaller purchases at other stores such as Market Organics on York Street, Metro, Your Independent Grocer and Costco.

There was a steady business too with Loblaws, which had the contract for “refreshments” for the Prime Minister’s Office guests and employees, budgeted at a maximum of $13,000 a year.

The Trudeaus brought a change in culinary style. They went suddenly and heavily organic.

In January of 2016, the newly arrived family spent $2,533 at Market Organics, which sold both food and body care products. (The store has since closed.)

The Farm Boy tab, meanwhile, fell to $612 in that month.

The Trudeaus’ Market Organics tab continued in following months — $2,080 in February and $1,955 in March.

They kept in touch with Loblaws as well — about $1,500 a month during this period — and sometimes ran an account at an upscale meat store, Your Corner Butcher on York Street ($854 in June of 2016, $492 in December.)

The Trudeau family groceries also came from a health food supermarket in Gatineau, La Boite à Grains on St. Joseph Street.

Receipts show they spent $2,324 there in January of 2017, and $1,814 the following month. By this point, after a year in office, their taste for Market Organics had fallen off some, with purchases totalling $832 in January of 2017.

Like many documents released under the Access to Information and Privacy Act, these grocery bills present some obstacles. The scanned images are blurry and often in tiny print, and different accounts and years are jumbled together.

Harder to follow is the amount of material blacked out as being private, or of national security. Many entire documents are blacked out except for the word “Invoice,” and an amount of money.

Others are partly redacted: You can know precisely what the PMO staff spend at any store on a given day, but not the nature of the purchases.

And Farm Boy has a points offer: Buy from the salad bar often enough and you get one free. But the PMO’s salad points total is confidential.

In many respects the expense accounts also show the ordinariness of prime ministerial home life.

• There are receipts from Dollarama. Also Costco.

• There are parking receipts for 25 and 50 cents. Yes, the PMO counts pennies.

• Groceries come largely from Farm Boy and Loblaws, but also from Bulk Barn, Home Hardware, Canadian Tire, and Winners. The upscale bakery Moulin de Provence pops up in the records, but the shopper got change back from $5. Someone in the Trudeau era likes Bridgehead, but only here and there.

• Some of the accounts sat a while before the PMO paid up. The January bill from La Boîte à Grains was still unpaid when the February bill arrived. Another (unidentified) vendor complains twice that bills are past due by 30 to 60 days.

• There’s a bill from Beckta on Elgin Street. Somehow the diner(s) escaped for $60, which is a mystery. It must have been a pretty light lunch. A side note: the bill is listed as $55 plus $5. Did Mr. and Mrs. Canada undertip?

• And the Trudeau PMO once spent $2.28 on newspapers.

The receipts and account statements are in a set of PMO expense documents requested from the Privy Council Office by someone two years ago, covering the period from late 2015 to early 2017. Under federal rules, once a package of documents is released to one person, anyone else can ask for a copy.

tspears@postmedia.com

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