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Documents show rookie minister paid back thousands in improper expenses
Julia Parrish, CTV Edmonton
Published Thursday, December 6, 2012 12:07PM MST
Last Updated Thursday, December 6, 2012 7:05PM MST
A day after expense documents for Alberta’s MLAs were released to the public, and dozens of improper charges by a first-time minister came to light, that MLA has told CTV News she’s learned from her actions.
Tourism Minister Christine Cusanelli’s expense documents show a number of improper charges were put on her government credit card, although they were all repaid.
Some of the most notable expenses were for charges relating to the government trip attending the London Olympics last summer.
According to documents, Cusanelli charged two additional plane tickets for her mother and daughter to join her in London on an Olympic trip – totaling about $4,000.
Nearly two months after the tickets were booked; Cusanelli paid back that cost, along with about $6,000 in other charges.
“Taking a long time to pay back taxpayers when you book family flights on the taxpayer’s credit card, that’s common sense, that’s not a rookie mistake,” Derek Fildebrandt with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said.
They’re expenses Cusanelli took responsibility for Thursday.
“These are expenses that of course, once they were on my credit card, my full intention is to pay it back,” Cusanelli said. “That is not a taxpayer expense, and I am well aware of that.”
Justice Minister Jonathan Denis stood behind his colleague.
“There’s a briefing that every cabinet minister including myself receives,” Denis said. “There’s also staff you rely on.
“The reality is mistakes are made over time and she’s already paid back these particular amounts.”
Cusanelli is a relatively new MLA, and was sworn in as Minister of Tourism in May.
The premier described the turn of events as disappointing, but she said it’s time to move on.
“It’s been dealt with because she paid them back,” Premier Alison Redford said. “She was advised that she had to ensure that she compensated for them, and she did that, and that’s all I need to know.”
Meanwhile, critics said the incident proves not much has changed in the Progressive Conservative party.
“She was supposed to be a new person coming in with a fresh perspective,” Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said. “It just kind of shows that even young women can have the same attitude as the old boys do.”
At a news conference Thursday morning, NDP Leader Brian Mason gave Minister Cusanelli credit for paying the money back.
“I think it was really presumptuous to assume the taxpayer would pay for her family members on that trip,” Mason said. “I think that’s very presumptuous but once she had a Chief of Staff who knew what he was doing she paid it back, so I’ll give her some credit for that.”
A political scientist said there may have been a lack of judgement on the minister’s part, but the situation is mostly positive.
“Problems were identified by an internal reviewing system, they were corrected by those internal reviewing systems and we now know about them because of the transparency rules that are in place,” Lori Williams with Mount Royal University said.
Other expenses Cusanelli paid back were for a $100 Starbucks gift card, and an item bought at a silent auction for $125.
Also included in the documents is a letter from Cusanelli’s Chief of Staff – which described how expense claims are managed by the Chief of Staff and outlining new standards underway in her office to ensure the “pattern of reimbursements does not continue.”
With files from Veronica Jubinville