Friday, March 4, 2016
Pringles to Private Jets
A look at
politician's expense accounts
Dermod Travis, Integrity BC
that Premier Christy Clark has spent $500,000 on private jets since
assuming office has not surprisingly raised a few eyebrows.
It's a story that has as much to do
with the symbolism as it does with the dollars.
A political condition that the
government seems increasingly tone deaf to as of late.
The story also broke at a particularly bad time.
Tough to defend private jets when you're clawing-back transit passes
from the disabled at the same time.
The private jets are only part of the total travel bill at the
In 2014/15, Clark's office charged an additional $131,742 on 10
regularly scheduled airlines, including $99,222 between Harbour Air
Add the premier's travel expenses all up and they came in at $67,538
for 2014/15 or $1,300 per week.
The premier's counter-spin on all of this basically boils down to:
well, he spent more than me and him too, pointing her finger
directly at former premiers Gordon Campbell and Glen Clark.
Bit of cherry picking going on, though.
In 2002/03, Campbell billed $77,269 in travel. The next year,
Campbell was up to $101,673 and the following year down to $61,939.
For 2010/11, his travel came in at $60,598.
Clark billed $75,589 for 2011/12.
Without some outside yardstick to measure travel expenses against,
it's a bit of a mug's game to claim one premier spent more than the
If Clark's travel costs are indefensible, a former premier's more
indefensible costs doesn't make hers defensible.
Fortunately such a yardstick is available.
In 2014/15, Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne billed $14,245 in travel
and hospitality expenses, including a trade mission to China.
Why the difference?
In Ontario, the premier, cabinet ministers, MPPs and senior
bureaucrats don't have the final say on their expenses. That task
falls to the province's Integrity Commissioner.
They're also stingy, in a good way. B.C.'s meal per diem for MLAs is
$61, in Ontario it's $40.
You won't see a $3.39 can of Pringles showing up on an expense
account in Ontario, as it did with the former CEO of Partnerships
B.C. who was pulling down $250,000 at the time.
Then there's the tiny matter that Premier Clark rarely travels
She's often accompanied by her press secretary, videographer and
occasionally B.C. Liberal party staff, as she criss-crosses the
Clark claims she travels with a videographer to (better) inform the
public via social media about events like the climate summit in
Paris last fall.
Check out the government's YouTube channel and no one would ever
accuse those canned videos of going viral. Most have under 1,000
In July, on one charter flight to Kelowna, Clark was joined by three
political staff, Forest Minister Steve Thomson and her bodyguard.
Total cost for the trip was $4,251 or $708 per person. A return
airfare can be had for about $250.
A point that's highly relevant when it comes to divvying up the
Do party staff pay their share of the real cost or the equivalent in
economy class fares? The same principle would apply to how costs are
assigned to Clark's public travel tally.
It's also not uncommon for the premier to squeeze in some party
fundraising while she travels, as she did in 2012 at the Calgary
Petroleum Club and as she does in Kelowna.
There's no rule that requires the party to contribute to the
premier's travel costs in such circumstances, effectively putting
B.C. taxpayers in the position of subsidizing B.C. Liberal
The symbiotic relationship doesn't stop there. Many of the same
companies that fly the premier on charter flights are also generous
donors to the B.C. Liberal party.
Since 2005, Helijet has donated $41,185 to the B.C. Liberals,
Blackcomb Aviation ($45,505), Pacific Coastal Airlines ($48,660),
London Air Services ($53,052) and Harbour Air ($128,310).
So how are the travel sweepstakes shaping up so far this year?
For the first nine months of 2015/16, Natural Gas Minister Rich
Coleman has top honours at $49,756, closely followed by Energy and
Mines Minister Bill Bennett ($49,629), Aboriginal Relations Minister
John Rustad ($44,880), Premier Clark ($44,300) and Finance Minister
Mike de Jong ($40,895).
Ontario's Finance Minister, Charles Sousa, billed $7,745 in 2014/15.
Dermod Travis is the executive director of
The Valley Voice
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