Saskatchewan’s finance minister is expected to speak to media Tuesday morning, in response to criticism around a nearly $8,000 charter flight she took to attend a chamber of commerce lunch in North Battleford days after the provincial budget announcing higher taxes was tabled.
An emailed statement sent to media Monday night said, “Our government makes every effort to ensure responsible use of tax dollars when it comes to travel.
“Driving is the primary mode of in-province travel for cabinet ministers, however, charter flights are used periodically, particularly for longer distances and when long drive times would impact other commitments.”
Finance Minister Donna Harpauer’s travel expense form, posted on the Saskatchewan Party government’s website, shows she took a chartered plane with Good Spirit Air Service on March 25, travelling 400 kilometres from Regina to North Battleford for a total cost of $7,872.60.
The flight was part of her in-person 2022-23 budget presentations, said the province’s statement, which also pointed fingers at the Opposition, highlighting trips to North Battleford taken in the NDP’s last eight years in government.
From 1999 to 2008, the NDP travelled to North Battleford 248 times, the statement says, for purposes ranging from budget meetings and receptions, to the opening of a Liquor Board Store and post-budget tours. The statement does not outline costs for those trips.
According to the province, total in-province and out-of-province travel expenses for all cabinet members have averaged approximately $200,000 to $400,000 annually since Executive Air was shut down in 2017.
“Significantly less than the $4.1M expense for Executive Air alone in 2006-07,” he statement says.
The statement also outlines the process for organizing charter flights, noting that the Ministry of SaskBuilds and Procurement (SBP) typically co-ordinates the flights using standing offers (SO), which are awarded to multiple vendors.
“SBP contacts standing offer vendors for pricing and availability when a flight is required,” the statement says. “Flights are awarded to the vendor based on price as well as travel requirements (things like day and time of travel, destination etc.).”
There is currently a standing offer agreement with Miccar Aerial (Good Spirit) and two other airlines — Kreos and Transwest.
Both the NDP and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) have spoken out against the pricey flight.
SFL president Lori Johb called on Harpauer to pay back the nearly $8,000 she expensed for the flight and to “apologize to working people for being so arrogant and out of touch with reality.”
NDP leader Carla Beck argued it was “a flight that very easily could have been replaced by a car ride.”
More to come…
— with files from Mickey Djuric of the Canadian Press
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