Redford to pay back South Africa trip expenses

EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Alison Redford announced Wednesday afternoon that she will pay back the costs associated with her trip to South Africa.

“This afternoon, I’ve informed my caucus, my Cabinet, and my party that I have personally paid for the costs associated with the recent South Africa trip.”

“I want to sincerely apologize to Albertans for these costs, and I’ve put in place measures to make sure this never happens again,” she said.

“My hope is that we can now get back to the work that Albertans asked us to do.”

Opposition parties have been criticizing her travel expenses for weeks, demanding that she reign in spending.

Redford has been heavily criticized for billing taxpayers $45,000 to attend the funeral for former South African leader Nelson Mandela in December.

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READ MORE: Redford’s travel expenses criticized 

Redford said she doesn’t want the issue distracting from the work that’s needed to build the province.

“We cannot afford – none of us – to be distracted from the important work that we have ahead of us. At the heart of it, we were elected to build for the future – that was the promise that we made to Albertans – to build an even better quality of life for Albertans while meeting our enormous growth challenges head-on, and that is what drives me each and every day.”

However, opposition parties say it’s too little, too late, and that the premier only paid back the money because politically she was forced to.

“It’s quite clear that this is a premier that can never do the right thing right off the bat,” said Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw.

“The fact that it’s taken so long, I think is just telling. She was quite adamant in Question Period and throughout that she had done nothing wrong… She’s out of touch with Albertans and there’s a culture of entitlement with the premier and the entire PC party.”

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Above: Reaction has been swift since Premier Alison Redford announced she would personally repay the cost of her flight to South Africa. Political blogger Dave Cournoyer weighs in with his thoughts.

“The issue of ‘travel-gate’ is not a distraction,” said Liberal leader Raj Sherman. “It goes to the core of the credibility and integrity of this government. We will only do the right thing for the wrong reason.”

“My take is a little bit different,” said NDP leader Brian Mason. “Alison Redford has not done the right thing because she thought it was the right thing to do. She did it because she was forced to politically.”

“The pressure has been mounting on her in a way that is very intense, including from her own caucus, from her own Cabinet colleagues, and from her own political party.”

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In a statement, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said:

“The Premier has finally done the right thing and paid back the taxpayers for her extravagant South Africa expenses. She has apologized and we accept her apology. I think all Albertans will be relieved that we can put this issue behind us. 

The Wildrose Official Opposition will continue to focus on important issues like healthcare, education, the treatment of seniors and other vulnerable Albertans, the mismanagement of our finances, and the ethical lapses of this government.”

The president of the PC Party of Alberta is also speaking out on Redford’s decision. Jim McCormick says he is pleased the premier has agreed to repay the money, but admits the long wait for it to happen has been deeply controversial among the party.

“I think there are people that do support our leader,” he said.

“I think for me in my position, I probably feel a lot more on the negative than I do on the positive.”

“That’s the nature of this position. So again, as I mentioned, we have heard from a lot of our members that have not been pleased with the cost of this trip nor with her not agreeing on repaying until today.”

McCormick says he doesn’t believe the conversation around the South Africa flight will disappear now that the money has been repaid.

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Officials from the premier’s office previously said the $45,000 for the Mandela funeral was the result of extenuating circumstances.

READ MORE: Alison Redford apologizes for Mandela trip cost but still won’t pay it back 

Redford took a provincial government plane to Ottawa for about $15,000 so she could catch a free flight overseas with a delegation that included Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Redford’s assistant flew to South Africa from Alberta for about $10,000. Redford and her assistant then took a commercial flight home for $10,000 each. Redford took the commercial flight rather than flying free with Harper because she had to get back early for the swearing-in of a new cabinet.

The Wildrose official Opposition says Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil attended the same event and charged taxpayers less than $1,000.

With files from The Canadian Press

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