04/03/2014 12:17 EDT | Updated 06/03/2014 05:59 EDT

Saskatchewan social services minister says she'll repay $3,600 car service cost

REGINA - A Saskatchewan cabinet minister says she will repay taxpayers for using a pricey car service on a trip to London and the top bureaucrat who made the booking and went along is on probation.

Social Services Minister June Draude came under fire in the legislature again on Thursday for using a car service that cost $3,600 over four days.

The expense was filed by Rick Mantey, cabinet secretary and the clerk of executive council, who accompanied Draude to England and Ghana last June. Draude said she wasn't aware of the car cost until Wednesday when the Opposition NDP released freedom-of-information documents detailing the trip.

Draude says she now realizes there were cheaper ways to get around London.

"When I got home, when I started thinking about it afterwards ... maybe there was another way to do that. There could have been another way," Draude said.

She said it was her fault that she didn't ask herself whether there were other options.

"If I didn't ask the question to myself at that time, then I'm responsible. I take full responsibility for that."

Draude also said she used the car service "a little bit" between meetings, but wouldn't say for what purpose. She thought the personal use of the car service was taken into account last June when Mantey took off about $800 from the original bill and split that amount with her.

Draude has said the trip was to learn about what other jurisdictions are doing on issues such as disability initiatives, social housing and fetal alcohol syndrome.

She spoke at a conference in Ghana, but her agenda while in London was not made available to media.

Premier Brad Wall said using a car service can make sense if a minister has a lot of meetings, but it "shouldn't have been booked in this case."

"I think it's a contractor that's been used by the government before when programs did warrant it. I don't think there was the appropriate sensitivity or awareness to the fact that this program was not as intense for the minister and could have been achieved by taxi. The minister came to that same conclusion. That's why she's paid it back," Wall said.

"I don't think there's anything sinister here."

Doug Moen, deputy minister to the premier, signed off on Mantey's expenses.

Mantey's probation means he is not to travel for six months or book anyone else's travel, said Wall. A disciplinary letter is on Mantey's file.

The documents also showed that $206 was spent for a lunch "debrief" in London with a woman named Rita Crone, a friend of Draude's from Saskatchewan.

Draude said she thought the lunch was a treat from Mantey and did not know it had been filed on his expenses.

Wall said it was a clerical error made after Mantey submitted many receipts to his assistant to fill out the expense form. Draude had no idea that the lunch was expensed and the amount has been repaid, Wall said.

The documents also showed that Draude's flights cost $2,696.80. Mantey's flights cost $4,366.43. Mantey flew business class, which is allowed under Saskatchewan government policy for overseas trips, while Draude opted to fly economy.

The NDP got the travel expenses when it filed a freedom-of-information request. Unlike Alberta, Saskatchewan does not publicly post all of those expenses.

"MLA expenses are already posted online. And I think it would be (an) appropriate and good step for the premier's expenses and ministers' expenses to be detailed in a similar way," NDP Leader Cam Broten suggested Thursday.