Sask. government's out-of-province travel expenses on pace to surpass 2022

Premier Scott Moe and his cabinet have been criss-crossing the globe in the last year on international government missions. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Premier Scott Moe and his cabinet have been criss-crossing the globe in the last year on international government missions. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

Saskatchewan's premier and cabinet are on pace to spend more on out-of-province travel than in years past.

The government recently posted its travel expenses for MLAs for the period of Oct. 1, 2022, to March 31, 2023.

In the first three months of 2023, the government spent more than $214,000 on out-of-province travel.

Premier Scott Moe and cabinet ministers have taken 17 trips as of March 31 — 10 of which were in Canada and four to the U.S. The other three trips were overseas.

  • Min. Jeremy Harrison: Tokyo, Japan, and Seoul, South Korea ($25,196);

  • Min. David Marit: New Delhi and Mumbai, India, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates ($32,323);

  • Premier Scott Moe: Mumbai, Chandigarh and Delhi, India ($56,906).

All three overseas missions happened in February.

The government posts travel expenses twice per year, so out-of-province costs for trips taken since April 1 are not posted.

Harrison, the minister of trade and export development, recently travelled to Germany. Moe and Minister of Education Dustin Duncan were in Washington, D.C., in April.

Travel bill for 2022 eclipses $500K

The pandemic brought travel to a halt in 2020 and for most of 2021. In 2019, the government spent more than $460,000 on out-of-province ministerial travel. Government records show the cabinet and premier spent slightly more than $260,000 on travel in 2017-18.

The government's expense report now includes the total costs for travel from October 2022 to the end of the year.

In 2022, total out-of-province travel spending was $501,265. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 30, 2022, total travel expenses were $359,874. The total for the last three months of 2022 was $141,391.

The most expensive trips were:

  • Min. Harrison: Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam ($30,403);

  • Min. Paul Merriman: Manila, Philippines ($28,388);

  • Min. Gord Wyant: Frankfurt, Germany, and Paris, France ($17,509);

  • Min. David Marit: Guadalajara, Saltillo and Mexico City, Mexico ($16,862).

Government points to exports and MOUs 

Moe has defended his government's travel as an important relationship-building exercise and an opportunity to pitch Saskatchewan as a place for trade and investment both throughout North America and overseas.

"International engagement efforts are how Saskatchewan grows its exports, strengthens trade relationships and continues to build on partnerships. This not only creates more opportunities for the province abroad but in turn creates more jobs and economic prosperity at home," the government of Saskatchewan said in a statement to CBC.

Scott Moe/Twitter
Scott Moe/Twitter

The government said its missions are "crucial for connecting Saskatchewan companies with new markets, which is an important piece to ensuring the province's economy can continue to thrive."

This week, Moe and the government pointed to a record in global merchandise exports which passed $52 billion in 2022.

The government said international engagement led to record exports last year:

  • $29.3 billion in exports to the United States;

  • $2.9 billion in exports to the ASEAN region (southeast Asia);

  • More than $1 billion in exports to Mexico.

The government also highlighted deals it said are a result of connecting Saskatchewan companies linking with international partners. Some of those deals include:

  • A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Canpotex and three Indian potash customers to supply 500,000 metric tonnes of potash;

  • An MOU between Saskatchewan's Prairie Clean Energy and Renova Inc. of Japan to supply it with thousands of tonnes of biomass;

  • More than 400 job offers to Filipino health care workers after an MOU signed between the ministry of advanced education and the Philippines Commission on Higher Education.

Travel should be justified, CTF says

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) said MLA travel needs to produce results.

"Taxpayers should be wary about these increasing travel expenses. Increases like this should not become the norm. While it's definitely possible that these expenses could be justified, it's up to the government to justify them," said Gage Haubrich, CTF's prairie director.

Haubrich said MLAs should use video calls if travel is too costly.

"When travel gets too expensive, Saskatchewanians delay their plans or replace them with a phone call. The government needs to evaluate if all these trips are worth it. Is the province getting over $50,000 of benefit from a trip to India?"

Haubrich said it is up to politicians to show "taxpayer dollars aren't being wasted on this type of travel."

Opposition says travel should scale back

Opposition NDP MLA Aleana Young said Saskatchewan's reliance on exports means the province should have a "presence on the international stage," but she said the amount of travelling and total expense is not appropriate given the cost-of-living issues many are dealing with.

"I think what bothers people the most is the excess at a time when the majority of people in the province can't afford the basics."

Young said Saskatchewan companies are best positioned to be travelling internationally to promote their businesses.

"I think there are a lot of questions for the government to answer when it comes to value for money for politicians going on these trips. We have a week-long trip to Germany and France clocking in at just over $17,000, which sounds like a lovely time," she said.

"But at a $17,000 cost to taxpayers, which is I think astonishing for a family in Saskatchewan, we also have a three-day trip to Toronto which cost even more than a week in Europe."

Young said she is not opposed to MLAs travelling, but said more detail is needed to see what is being spent and where, rather than the government providing a total.

"People expect their elected leaders not to be spending tax dollars lavishly on trips, especially during the generational cost-of-living crisis. I think people in the province would be very interested and I think deserve to know how much money is being spent where and ensuring that it is being spent wisely and with real results for Saskatchewan's economy and for people in the province."