Shock over Alison Redford’s travel bills – Tories say trips needed to boost business

By Darcy Henton, Calgary Herald September 5, 2012 9:00 AM

Alberta’s premier and her minister of international and intergovernmental relations announced respective trips to Asia and Europe Tuesday, running up the cost of cabinet travel this year to nearly $380,000 just days after the government conceded the deficit is ballooning.

Premier Alison Redford, who recently returned from an $84,000 trip to the London Olympics, is headed to Asia for the second time this year at an estimated cost of $66,895.

International and Intergovernmental Relations Minister Cal Dallas is off to Scotland, Germany and Italy at a cost of $41,645, the government said Tuesday. Upon their return, the pair will have racked up travel bills of more than $360,000 between them this year on 10 international trips.

The premier’s spokesman, Jay O’Neill, defended the expenses as necessary for opening new markets for Alberta.

“As a government we have business to take care of,” he said.

But critics expressed shock at the size of the travel bill and the signal it sends to Albertans who’ve been warned to expect a deficit more than triple the $886 million forecast last February.

They also question whether Albertans get any value for the cost in taxpayer dollars.

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said Redford should be travelling more frugally to set an example. Travelling around the world in first class seats is “a slap in the face of Albertans,” he said.

“True leadership is leading by example.”

NDP critic David Eggen said jetting around the world doesn’t sit right with Albertans facing the prospect of a $3-billion deficit.

“It sends the wrong message,” he said. “If you are serious about austerity, it starts at the top.”

Wildrose critic Rob Anderson said the exorbitant cost of cabinet travel is likely to anger Albertans who are being asked to lower their expectations in light of the province’s looming financial crunch.

“If this is what belt-tightening looks like I would hate to see the size of their waist line,” he added.

Anderson said it is shocking in light of the controversy earlier this summer over extravagant expense claims made by a senior Alberta Health official.

Scott Hennig, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the Tories need to set priorities to deal with financial realities.

“If you can’t cut down on international travel when you are broke, when can you cut down on it?” he wondered.

But O’Neill said Redford’s second Asia trip was planned last January with the premiers of Saskatchewan and B.C. to promote markets in Western Canada. “Market access is not only important to us but also to premiers of Saskatchewan and B.C.,” he said.

“There are countries that want our energy and want our resources and we’re doing all we can to make sure that happens. We’ve had some foreign investment in the oilsands announced recently … and this is just continuing to drive more interest.”

He rejected opposition calls to curtail travel until the books are balanced.

“They can say what they want,” O’Neill said.

“We have to make sure we’re doing the right thing for Albertans and that is looking at things like market access and that’s working with our counterparts, B.C. and Saskatchewan. … We can’t be worried about what those people are saying about what we’re doing.”

International and Intergov-ernmental Relations spokesman David Sands said that the travel and face-to-face meetings with Chinese officials are already beginning to pay dividends.

“These missions have, and will continue to, bring results to Albertans,” he said in an email.

Sands said in the past five years, Alberta’s exports to China have nearly doubled, jumping from $1.35 billion in 2007 to $2.6 billion in 2011, “thanks in part to Alberta’s ongoing efforts to engage Asia.”

He said meetings between the premier and officials in China have resulted in Chinese oil company executives coming to Calgary for conferences.

“Our continued engagement in these markets demonstrates our commitment and goodwill, the benefits of which we’re already starting to see,” Sands said.


London – $84,000*

Asia – $66,895**

Asia – $39,068

Chicago – $23,027

NYC/D.C- $29,541

Virginia/D.C. -$18,967

Washington – $6,251

Total – $267,749

* estimate

** estimate for planned trip in September.

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Original source article: Shock over Alison Redford’s travel bills