Saskatchewan’s finance minister spent $8,000 on a private plane to attend the business lunch

REGINA – Saskatchewan’s finance minister spent nearly $8,000 on a private plane to attend a chamber of commerce luncheon days after she introduced a provincial budget containing tax increases.

Minister Donna Harpauer’s travel expense form, posted on the Saskatchewan Party government website, shows she took a plane chartered with Good Spirit Air Service on March 25, traveling 250 miles from Regina to North Battleford.

The flight cost $7,872.60.

A spokesman for Harpauer said he was not available for an interview and provided a statement.

“After limiting travel for the last two years due to the pandemic, the minister was able to visit various regions of the province,” James Parker said in an email.

“For many years, finance ministers have toured the province to discuss the budget. The tours are a good way to connect with people and provide more detailed information about how the provincial budget is working for them and their community.”

The lunch Harpauer attended was hosted by the North Battleford Chamber of Commerce at the Porta Bella restaurant.

Two days earlier, he introduced the 2022-23 budget in the legislature, announcing increased property and smoking taxes and a six percent provincial sales tax on entertainment, gyms, concerts, museums and sporting events.

“This is a flight that could very easily have been replaced by a car ride,” said Carla Beck, opposition leader NDP.

“We see people making changes to their summer plans…because they can’t afford gas, and we see a minister with a flight spending enough for someone to do it in four months.”

Beck said politicians need to lead by example, especially when asking residents to buckle up following a budget that increased people’s cost of living.

“If they don’t understand how difficult things are for people, and maybe they don’t understand, if they only see people from the sky on an $8,000 flight, they should go out and talk to people,” said Beck, who noted that he has traveled thousands of kilometers by car in recent weeks to meet people throughout the province.

Prime Minister Scott Moe, Education Minister Dustin Duncan and Rural Health Minister Everett Hindley also arranged a private Good Spirit Air Service flight from Regina to the northern province on January 10. The trip was for a funding announcement and to visit four communities.

That flight cost nearly $16,000, with each of the three spending $5,301.86. Moe, Duncan and Hindley were not available for comment.

“It is standard practice to share costs and coordinate charter flights, where possible, to reduce the costs of air travel,” government spokesman Mathew Glover said in a statement.

He said driving is the main mode of travel within the province for ministers, but charter flights are used periodically for longer distances or when it affects other commitments.

Since the government closed its airline service, Executive Air, in 2017, it has spent between $200,000 and $400,000 annually for cabinet members to travel in and out of the province, Glover said.

He said that’s far less than the $4 million spent on Executive Air in 2006-07 by the NDP government at the time.

Since March, the Saskatchewan NDP has called on the government to offer financial relief to residents as they deal with rising fuel costs, inflation and taxes.

New Democrats have called on the government to temporarily suspend fuel tax collection from provinces like Alberta and to increase royalty rates for natural resource companies that make windfall profits.

Moe has said no decision has been made on such relief because the province has a nearly $500 million shortfall it must pay.

He has said that if the budget balances earlier than projected and there is a surplus of natural resource revenue, his administration will look for ways to return dollars to residents in a way that benefits everyone.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 18, 2022.


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