Hand-picked Higgs officials living outside Fredericton cost taxpayers extra

·3 min read
Yennah Hurley was personally recruited by Premier Blaine Higgs to advise on tourism matters and eventually run the Tourism Department as its deputy minister. She lives in Quispamsis and billed the province for 24 trips to Saint John in 2020 to attend in-person meetings. (CBC archives - image credit)
Yennah Hurley was personally recruited by Premier Blaine Higgs to advise on tourism matters and eventually run the Tourism Department as its deputy minister. She lives in Quispamsis and billed the province for 24 trips to Saint John in 2020 to attend in-person meetings. (CBC archives - image credit)

Two New Brunswick deputy ministers who have been commuting to Fredericton from the Saint John area to run their departments accumulated thousands of dollars in accommodation and mileage expenses last year moving back and forth between the cities, records show.

John Logan, who lives in Saint John and heads the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, billed the province $9,219.08 for 85 overnight stays in Fredericton in 2020 to attend to business at department headquarters, according to his public expense records.

In a statement, Nicolle Carlin, director of communications for Premier Blaine Higgs, said Logan regularly works in Fredericton, where his job is headquartered, but often chooses not to commute home at the end of the day.

"John Logan works mostly out of the Fredericton office," said the statement. "When he's in Fredericton, he usually stays in the city for more than a day."

Yennah Hurley, a deputy minister who runs the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, owns a home in Quispamsis.

[IMAGE

]Hurley was paid $9,550 to offset Fredericton accommodation expenses in 2020 but also billed over $900 in mileage charges for 24 trips she made up and down Highway 7 to attend meetings close to her home in Saint John.

The Saint John meetings were eight times more than the number in any other location Hurley visited outside of her office in Fredericton, but her department insists the charges were for legitimate government business.

These were expenses for meetings related to the duties of the acting Deputy Minister at the time," Erika Jutras, the department's acting communications director, said in an email about the Saint John meetings.

Jutras dismissed questions about whether holding so many meetings in Saint John and submitting expense claims for them could be seen as an attempt to have the province subsidize Hurley's commute between Fredericton and her home in Quispamsis.

The expense reports do show the largest number of the Saint John meetings, 11, are dated as happening on a Friday and most occurred after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, when many government gatherings moved online.

Hurley and Logan are among at least four senior officials hand-picked by Higgs to serve in key government roles who have not moved to Fredericton and whose expense accounts have included a variety of enhanced charges as a result.

New Brunswick government officials have largely switched to online meetings since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, including Higgs, shown here last week speaking with the New Brunswick Nurses Union online from his office last week.
New Brunswick government officials have largely switched to online meetings since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, including Higgs, shown here last week speaking with the New Brunswick Nurses Union online from his office last week.

New Brunswick government officials have largely switched to online meetings since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, including Higgs, shown here last week speaking with the New Brunswick Nurses Union online from his office last week.

In similar but separate arrangements, the premier's chief of staff and deputy minister, Louis Léger, and his principal secretary, Paul D'Astous, were paid the same $955 monthly "living allowance" as Hurley through much of 2020 to defray costs of staying in Fredericton without the requirement to provide receipts.

D'Astous, like Hurley, maintains a home in Quispamsis, while Léger has a residence in Sainte-Marie-de-Kent. Logan, who once served with Higgs as an executive at Irving Oil, lives in Saint John.

Earlier this month, Higgs told CBC News that Hurley no longer qualifies for the living allowance since being named the permanent deputy minister of her department in December. Carlin said D'Astous also no longer qualifies after recently signing a new employment contract.

Paul D'Astous is principal secretary to Higgs. He owns a home in Quispamsis and for most of 2020 received a $955 monthly 'living allowance,' one of four senior Higgs government officials paid extra to subsidize the cost of working, but not living, in Fredericton.
Paul D'Astous is principal secretary to Higgs. He owns a home in Quispamsis and for most of 2020 received a $955 monthly 'living allowance,' one of four senior Higgs government officials paid extra to subsidize the cost of working, but not living, in Fredericton.

Paul D'Astous is principal secretary to Higgs. He owns a home in Quispamsis and for most of 2020 received a $955 monthly 'living allowance,' one of four senior Higgs government officials paid extra to subsidize the cost of working, but not living, in Fredericton.

Logan does still qualify for payment of his Fredericton living expenses as does Léger, which Carlin said has been the case for previous chiefs of staff..

"Mr. Leger's position is not a permanent position with the civil service," said a statement issued by Carlin.

"It is a job with a fixed time limit, and therefore most people who accept such a position would not move their home and family."