Minister under fire for billing taxpayers for family flight
Published Thursday, December 6, 2012 4:11PM MST
Last Updated Thursday, December 6, 2012 6:39PM MST
Dozens of improper charges by a first-time minister have come to light just one day after expense documents for Alberta’s MLAs were released to the public.
Tourism Minister Christine Cusanelli’s expense documents show that a number of improper charges were billed to taxpayers that related to a government trip to attend the London Olympics last summer.
According to the documents, Cusanelli charged two additional first-class plane tickets, on her government credit card, for her daughter and mother totaling about $4,000.
Less than two weeks after she returned from London, Cusanelli cut a cheque for the $4000 and another for $6000 in other expenses she claimed, that she wasn’t allowed to.
Throughout the released expense documents, a number of items were noted as expenses that were reimbursed.
“We have an issue with the accountability factor, because we do work with staff, and staff are going to help us out with booking flights and what have you,” Cusanelli told CTV News Thursday morning. “It’s my responsibility to make sure my staff understand these are the expectations I have.”
Justice Minister Jonathan Denis stood behind his colleague.
“There’s a briefing that every cabinet minister including myself receives,” Denis said. “There’s also staff you rely on. The reality is mistakes are made over time and she’s already paid back these particular amounts.”
Cusanelli’s critics don’t agree.
“Some things are obvious and common sense. Taking a long time to pay back taxpayers when you book family flights on the taxpayer credit card, that’s common sense, not a rookie mistake. A real foul up,” said Derek Fildebrant of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
"You see with someone like Ms. Cusanelli, she was supposed to be the new face of the party. She was supposed to be a new person coming in with a fresh perspective. It just kind of shows that even young women can have the same attitude as the old boys do,” said Danielle Smith, Wildrose Leader.
At a news conference on Thursday morning, NDP Leader Brian Mason gave Minister Cusanelli credit for paying the money back.
“I think it was really presumptuous to assume the taxpayer would pay for her family members on that trip,” Mason said. “I think that’s very presumptuous but once she had a Chief of Staff who knew what he was doing she paid it back, so I’ll give her some credit for that.”
The premier is also willing to let the oversight slide.
“It's been dealt with because she paid them back, she was advised that she had to compensate for them and that's all I need to know,” said Premier Redford.
Other expenses Cusanelli paid back were for a $100 Starbucks gift card, and an item bought at a silent auction for $125.
Also included in the documents is a letter from Cusanelli’s Chief of Staff – which described how expense claims are managed by the Chief of Staff and outlining new standards underway in her office to ensure the “pattern of reimbursements does not continue.”
(With files from edmonton.ctvnews.ca)