The NDP government is defending a $760 cab fare expense claim made by the chair of the Calgary and South Mental Health Review Panel.
Marilyn Smith submitted the ticket for a refund after she and two other members of the panel took a taxi from Calgary to Medicine Hat on May 5.
“These costs would be higher if panel members each drove their own vehicles, and triple or four times the cost if members travelled by plane,” read an email from Timothy Wilson, the press secretary for the health minister. “We do not force panel members to drive if they are not comfortable taking passengers.”
Travel time can also be used to review the cases and to prepare for the hearings. Wilson said members could not use public transportation if they wanted to have those meetings.
“Given the sensitive nature of the cases, travel by bus would not be appropriate.”
Wilson also stated that many panel members have started using technology to attend the hearings when appropriate, but said it isn’t an option in many cases.
However, the Canadian Taxpayers Foundation (CTF) is calling out the expense saying taxpayers should not be on the hook for the bill.
“It’s not reasonable for taxpayers to have to pay to have her commute around in the province in a town car or a taxi,” CTF Alberta director Colin Craig said. “If it happens once a year, maybe there’s a reasonable explanation for it. But, it’s still continuing to happen every month or two.”
This also isn’t the first time Smith’s expenses have come into question.
Metro News reported that, from Jan. 5, 2015 to June 20, 2016, taxpayers footed limousine bills totaling more than $50,000, so Smith and vice-chair David Gordon could attend panels around southern Alberta.
The Calgary and South Mental Health Panel deals with legal proceedings concerning court ordered treatment for patients.
Hoffman’s office said, in the past, the same trip was costing “as much as $1,338. However, thanks to policy changes made last year, we have reduced costs from between $970 and $1300 to about $700.”
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