Alberta MLA sorry for personal charges on government card
Published Friday, December 7, 2012 9:48AM EST
Last Updated Friday, December 7, 2012 10:06AM EST
Just days after her expense documents caused a public outcry, an Alberta cabinet minister with thousands of dollars of personal charges on her government credit card says she’s learned from her mistakes.
When booking a government trip to the London Olympics last summer, Tourism Minister Christine Cusanelli charged two additional first-class plane tickets for her mother and daughter -- totalling about $4,000. Another $6,000 in questionable expenses were also charged to the account, including a $100 Starbucks gift card and an item bought at a silent auction for $125.
Cusanelli -- a first-time cabinet minister -- reimbursed the government for the tickets nearly two months after the London charges. She has also paid back the other inappropriate charges, but the delay is still causing consternation among her critics.
“Taking a long time to pay back taxpayers when you book family flights on the taxpayer’s credit card… that’s not a rookie mistake,” said the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Derek Fildebrandt.
He added that she could have used simple “common sense” to avoid such scrutiny.
It is not clear if Cusanelli also paid back the interest that would have accumulated on the personal charges.
The charges came to light Wednesday when expense documents for Alberta MLAs were released to the public. They included a letter from Cusanelli’s chief of staff outlining new standards in her office to ensure the “pattern of reimbursements does not continue.”
She told CTV News on Thursday that she’s learned from her actions.
“These are expenses that of course, once they were on my credit card, my full intention is to pay it back,” Cusanelli said. “That is not a taxpayer expense, and I am well aware of that.”
Cusanelli was elected in April and became tourism minister in May.
Premier Alison Redford -- herself currently embroiled in a nepotism scandal involving her ex-husband -- said she forgives the rookie mistake and is ready to move on.
“It’s been dealt with because she paid them back,” Redford said. “She was advised that she had to ensure that she compensated for them, and she did that. And that’s all I need to know.”
The province’s justice minister also stood by his colleague, suggesting some of the errors were the fault of her staff.
“There’s a briefing that every cabinet minister, including myself, receives,” said Jonathan Denis. “There’s also staff you rely on … The reality is mistakes are made over time and she’s already paid back these particular amounts.”
Opposition politicians see things otherwise, saying the incident shows that the governing Progressive Conservatives are taking the public purse for granted.
“She was supposed to be a new person coming in with a fresh perspective,” Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said. “It just kind of shows that even young women can have the same attitude as the old boys do.”