POLITICS

Saskatchewan minister's travel costs raising red flag for Opposition NDP

04/02/2014 06:05 EDT | Updated 06/02/2014 05:59 EDT
REGINA - Saskatchewan Social Services Minister June Draude is facing criticism for spending more than $3,600 on a car service during a four-day trip to London.

The Opposition NDP has released freedom of information documents detailing Draude's trip to England, as well as to Ghana in June 2013.

"We think this amount for transportation is really high, excessively high and we think this shows a growing sense of entitlement. We're concerned about this," New Democrat David Forbes said Wednesday.

"We think particularly from a minister of social services, there should have been more attention to expenses."

Forbes pointed out that a single adult on social services gets about $4,000 over eight months.

Forbes said international travel can be important for ministers to learn from others and share expertise, but he said the transportation cost here "raises a lot of flags about the value for money."

The documents also show that Draude spent $206 on the same trip for a lunch "debrief" in London with a woman named Rita Crone.

Draude defended the trip, which included attending a conference on fetal alcohol syndrome.

"It was important to me to make this trip so that we could talk, not just about social issues, but to learn from some of the other jurisdictions on things that I was working on, things like the disabilities strategy, the fetal alcohol spectrum disorder strategy that we're doing, housing initiatives, so it was a busy time," she said.

"We had a number of meetings in one day so we would travel back and forth."

However, Draude could not explain why the lunch with Crone, her friend from Saskatchewan, was included.

"I don't know why that would have been expensed. That is something that I would pay back," she said.

Both the cost for car service and the lunch appear on the expense forms for Rick Mantey, the cabinet secretary and clerk of executive council who accompanied Draude on the trip.

Government spokeswoman Kathy Young later said in an email to media that Mantey submitted many receipts to his assistant to fill out the expense form and the lunch was inadvertently included. Young said it would be repaid.

The freedom of information documents also show that Draude's flights cost $2,696.80. Mantey's flights cost $4,366.43.

Young said Mantey flew business class, as per the government policy for overseas trips, while Draude opted to fly economy the whole way.