Lukaszuk defends $20,000 data roaming charges

WATCH ABOVE: Alberta PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk spent the day explaining a stunningly large cell phone bill. Fletcher Kent has the story.

EDMONTON – Alberta premier candidate Thomas Lukaszuk is defending racking up $20,000 in telephone expenses during an overseas trip.

Lukaszuk went on a personal trip to Poland, Israel, and the West Bank in October 2012 as a guest of the Simon Weisenthal Centre’s Compassion to Action program. He says he covered the travel costs because the trip was on private time.

However, Lukaszuk – who was Deputy Premier at the time of the trip – claims he had to do some government work because there was no real “private time.”

“An urgent government legal matter arose that required my attention. There were a lot of long conversations, and proceedings with lawyers and the courts. The case itself is under a court-ordered publication ban, so it is against the law for me to provide details,” says Lukaszuk.

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“Suffice it to say that government faced an issue, it needed to be dealt with, and it was.”

Data and roaming charges surpassed $20,000 which the PC MLA called “an unwelcome surprise.”

“My staff and Executive Council staff fought with the telephone company to have the charges reduced. They were unsuccessful. The bill was begrudgingly paid, and publicly reported in February 2013 as part of my office expenses,” says Lukaszuk.

NDP MLA Rachel Notley says the $20,000 bill is further proof that there needs to be a public inquiry into all government spending, which the auditor general’s report wasn’t able to uncover.

Notley adds it would have been a simple task for Lukaszuk to purchase a plan that would have reduced the roaming charges.

“What this indicates is that another minister didn’t care, didn’t take the time, just assumed that it was a bottomless pit of taxpayers dollars for their disposal.”

Lukaszuk says he’s switched his telephone supplier since the trip, and the government has a better data plan.

“Absolutely I made a mistake, and for that I apologize. I did not check the data plan myself, and I did not confirm that my office had done so,” explains Lukaszuk.

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“The result was that accomplishing a task cost the government more than it should have. This was an expensive lesson.”

Lukaszuk is one of three candidates – along with Jim Prentice and Ric McIver – vying for the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership.

PC party members will cast their votes for the new leader on Sept. 6.