What P.E.I. politicians have expensed for vehicle costs lately

·6 min read
Prince Edward Islanders are now paying almost $2.20 a litre for regular gas. The rising costs of fuelling up are being reflected in MLA expense documents.  (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Prince Edward Islanders are now paying almost $2.20 a litre for regular gas. The rising costs of fuelling up are being reflected in MLA expense documents. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The rising fuel prices that are causing grief for Island drivers and consumers are also being reflected in the expense accounts of P.E.I. cabinet ministers.

Health Minister Ernie Hudson claimed $1,525.84 for gas for April alone, driving in from his West Prince district to work in Charlottetown as the legislative session continued.

Several other cabinet members weren't too far behind.

Agriculture Minister Bloyce Thompson's gas bill for April was $1,374.78, though his commute is much shorter, from his district of Stanhope-Marshfield.

Political analyst Don Desserud said these are "pretty high numbers" if you work it out on a daily basis.

"We're talking $30 or $40 a day — maybe even more. And it's hard to understand exactly how much traveling you need to do in one day to warrant all of that."

Rick Gibbs/CBC
Rick Gibbs/CBC

Desserud said he doesn't take issue with mileage costs being covered by taxpayers, since he thinks politicians should be out in the community and some can't avoid the high cost of travelling from their home districts.

But the UPEI professor says there should be some "restraint" at this time, and that government missed an opportunity to lead by example at a time when households are being urged themselves to show restraint.

"What an opportunity that would have been for cabinet, for caucus for that matter, to show our elected representatives getting on a bus, buying a bicycle," Desserud said, "doing something that shows they're concerned about these gas prices."

Earlier this week, officials with the P.E.I. Department of Finance said inflation could be peaking right now, but that the inflation rate will likely remain unusually high for at least another year.

Being able to get out to Island communities and meet with Islanders is an important part of good governance. - Department of Transportation and Infrastructure statement

The province said it's doing what it can to help, with one-time relief payments going out in July to many Islanders worth up to $150.

In a statement to CBC News regarding vehicle expenses, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said: "Being able to get out to Island communities and meet with Islanders is an important part of good governance … It is particularly important now as the pandemic has limited such activities the last two years."

Cherokees and F-150s

Cabinet ministers on P.E.I. are entitled to a government vehicle of their choosing, with fuel and maintenance expenses covered. If they prefer to use their own vehicle, they can charge mileage, just as members of the public service do.

The leader of the Official Opposition and the legislative Speaker are allowed the same perk.

The current MLAs with government-owned vehicles are:

  • Premier Dennis King, a 2021 Jeep Cherokee.

  • Darlene Compton, a 2022 Toyota Venza (hybrid).

  • Jamie Fox, a 2022 Ford Escape (hybrid).

  • Matthew MacKay, a 2020 Ford F-150.

  • Steven Myers, a 2021 Ford F-150 (hybrid).

  • Bloyce Thompson, a 2022 Hyundai Kona EV.

  • Speaker Hon. Colin Lavie, a 2017 Jeep Cherokee.

"As more electric vehicle options come to market, increased access to charging infrastructure becomes available and eventual price parity between gas and electric, government will take this into consideration for its ministerial vehicle policies," said the statement from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure spokesperson.

Brian McInnis/CBC
Brian McInnis/CBC

Another email from the premier's office noted that vehicle allowances have not changed since Dennis King's government was elected in 2019, adding: "Expenses for the last three years around travel and mileage have been on average lower than previous governments."

Hybrids and electric vehicles

Cabinet expense claims are posted online monthly. As of this week, most are current up until April, so CBC News looked at figures for the last three months, after gas prices had really started to rise.

Steven Myers, the minister of environment who represents Georgetown-Pownal, recently switched from a Toyota Tacoma to a Ford F-150 hybrid. His most recent fuel bill from February was for $625.

Education Minister Natalie Jameson, whose department has been investing heavily in electric-powered school buses, also drives a personal vehicle that's a hybrid.

Brad Trivers drives his own fully electric vehicle — he submits no fuel expenses.

His most recent vehicle expense was from last year, when it cost $25.80 to change over to his summer tires.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

As for vehicle maintenance, Fisheries and Communities Minister Jamie Fox submitted the biggest monthly claim in this period, expensing $1,314 in claims for his personal vehicle in March, most of that for a new set of tires. He also billed taxpayers for a tire rotation, oil change, three car washes and a container of automotive soap that month, worth a combined $149.

Finance Minister Darlene Compton, who advised Islanders over the winter that they would have to "tighten their belts" to cope with inflation's impacts, claimed $144 for floor mats in February.

Previously, Compton had expensed a $500 trailer hitch for her newly purchased government vehicle back in December. She later said she would be prepared to cover the cost herself.

Mileage for MLAs 

Backbench MLAs from all parties submit claims, posted quarterly, for work-related mileage to and from the legislature when it's sitting, to and from committee meetings, and then one day a week of mileage in their constituency.

They receive the civil service mileage rate; as of this month, that's 59.4 cents per kilometre.

The three Liberals who drive in from West Prince tend to rack up the gas bills. Reimbursement for Hal Perry, Robert Henderson and Sonny Gallant came in at a combined $11,513 for the first three months of the year.

Brittany Spencer/CBC
Brittany Spencer/CBC

Asked if they'd ever carpooled or taken transit, Henderson responded there's "no transit in Freeland" where he lives, and said he has carpooled with a colleague on "the odd occasion" but their schedules don't usually align.

No car at all for city Green

And for those wondering who the cheapest MLA is, Ole Hammarlund takes the title.

The Green MLA for Charlottetown-Brighton submitted no vehicle-related claims for the first quarter.

He no longer owns a vehicle and lives just a few blocks from the Coles building.

"Walking to the Coles building from the old Y and back only takes 10 minutes and is an essential part of my exercise program," the MLA said.

Hammerlund told CBC he sometimes has to borrow his son's vehicle to travel for committee work. In the last quarter of 2021, he did submit a claim for $2.36 for that kind of travel.

But he said he rarely submits vehicle expenses because "I also happen to hate keeping track of such things so most often don't bother or forget."

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