Labour and taxpayer organizations call on Sask. finance minister to apologize for charter flight spending

·3 min read
Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer speaks at a news conference on budget day at the Legislative Building in Regina, two days before spending nearly $8,000 on a chartered flight to North Battleford.  (Moreen Mugerwa/CBC - image credit)
Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer speaks at a news conference on budget day at the Legislative Building in Regina, two days before spending nearly $8,000 on a chartered flight to North Battleford. (Moreen Mugerwa/CBC - image credit)

Saskatchewan's minister of finance is being called on to apologize for spending nearly $8,000 on a flight from Regina to North Battleford in March.

On March 23, Donna Harpauer sat in the Legislature on budget day and announced that the government would raise taxes. She said there would be a tax hike on properties and smokers, and a six per cent provincial sales tax on entertainment, gyms, concerts, museums and sporting events. 

Two days later, Harpauer chartered a private plane from Good Spirit Air Service to present the budget at a chamber commerce luncheon in North Battleford.

Harpauer's expenses are posted online, and the bill for the flight came to $7,872.60. Driving the 400 kilometres would have taken approximately four hours.

"To spend eight grand to get to the Battlefords doesn't make sense. That's not right. And taxpayers should not be stuck with that bill," said Todd MacKay, vice president of communications for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

"There's never a good time for a politician to spend eight grand on a trip that should cost maybe a couple of hundred bucks, tops. There's never a good time for it, but some times are worse than others. And this is a pretty bad time."

Bryan Eneas/CBC
Bryan Eneas/CBC

Saskatchewan Opposition NDP Leader Carla Beck said she has travelled thousands of kilometres by car in recent weeks to meet people across the province. She had harsh words for the private flight.

Beck said ordinary citizens can't even afford a road trip right now, let alone what she calls "lavish" and "extravagant" spending by the minister.

"Out of touch certainly comes to mind. Entitled is another word that I think comes to mind," Beck said on the steps of the Legislature on Monday.

"Remember, this is two days after a budget where the finance minister raised fees and taxes 32 times on the people of Saskatchewan. [In] a time of record 40-year inflationary pressures that people are are feeling. People are struggling to make ends meet."

Saskatchewan NDP
Saskatchewan NDP

Meanwhile, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour called the flight an insult to workers who are struggling to pay the bills.

"The finance minister should pay back the cost of the flight and apologize to working people for being so arrogant and out of touch with reality," said SFL president Lori Johb in a statement.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation also said an apology is in order.

"Don't defend it. Just apologize. When everybody around you knows that you did something that wasn't a good idea, you need to just admit that. And that's good accountability for taxpayers. Apologize for it. But then we've still got to deal with the bill. Taxpayers shouldn't be paying this bill."

Moreen Mugerwa/CBC
Moreen Mugerwa/CBC

In a statement to CBC News, the province said driving is the primary mode of in-province travel for cabinet ministers.

However, the government said, charter flights are used periodically, particularly for longer distances and when long drive times would impact other commitments.

"Community engagement following the introduction of the budget has been an annual practice for many years. It is a vital way to connect with local chambers and residents to give them more detailed information regarding the provincial budget and to receive feedback," said spokesperson Matthew Glover.

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