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Premier Jason Kenney spent $16K to fly premiers to Saskatoon after Calgary Stampede event

WATCH ABOVE: Premier Jason Kenney is in the hot seat. He's being grilled by the NDP over the use of taxpayer dollars to charter a fight for other Conservative premiers. Tom Vernon has the details.

Premier Jason Kenney spent more than $16,000 in taxpayer money to fly three fellow premiers to Saskatoon following an event at the Calgary Stampede this summer, according to the Official Opposition.

On Thursday morning, NDP Leader Rachel Notley said her party obtained invoices and flight manifests from the July 8 Sunwest Aviation charter flight, which flew Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs and then-Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod from Calgary to a premiers’ meeting in Saskatoon.

READ MORE: No women at table as Canada’s premiers meet in Saskatoon

In total, 16 people were on the flight, including Moe and Higgs’ wives and a number of staff members, according to the flight manifest obtained by the NDP.

“It’s one thing to invite your Conservative buddies for a partisan photo-op at the Stampede — it’s entirely another matter for Alberta taxpayers to be footing the bill,” Notley said in a media release.

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“And beyond that, what possible justification is there for flying the spouses of these premiers? This is a gross misuse of public dollars.

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“When this premier told Albertans it was time to live within our means, it’s clear those rules didn’t apply to him.”

Notley went on to say she is troubled by the move. She is calling on Kenney to apologize and ask the other premiers to pay back the cost of the flight.

“I’ve been to COF [Council of Federation], I’ve met with these premiers. Nothing happened at COF that wouldn’t have happened without the premier’s pancake party. And, throughout the whole time of being at COF, premiers pay for their own expenses,” she said.

“Jason Kenney does not need to be the big man in the room at the expense of Alberta taxpayers.”

The premiers joined Kenney in Calgary for a pancake breakfast during the Stampede. Ontario Premier Doug Ford was also in attendance.

READ MORE: 5 premiers don cowboy duds, flip pancakes on Calgary Stampede visit

Kenney said it was an ally-building exercise, to get the country on side with the priorities of Alberta.

“Getting support for our fight for fairness in the federation from a majority of provinces representing a majority of Canadians is a critical part of our strategy to stand up to a increasingly hostile federal government,” Kenney said Thursday.

The pancake breakfast was held ahead of the Council of Federation meeting in Saskatoon, which ran from July 9 to 11.

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Kenney said the premiers held a key strategy session in Alberta “immediately before” the meeting in Saskatchewan, and there were no commercial flights available to get them out east on time to attend both meetings. He called the move common sense.

“The only way to get everybody up there on time was through a charter. So we’ll only use charters when it’s exceptional, (when) we can’t get access to commercial flights to get to where we need to go,” he said.

“They came out west at their own expense. They went back home at their own expense. We asked premiers to come to Calgary so we could show them a bit of Stampede hospitality so they could show Albertans their support for the energy sector, for our province at a time of adversity. So they did us a solid by coming out here, by showing us support and we offered some logistical support to get them from Calgary to Saskatoon in time for a bigger premiers’ meeting. I think it was just common sense.”

READ MORE: Alberta premier to create panel aimed at ‘fight for fairness’ in Canadian constitution

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation also slammed the $16,000 flight, calling it a “misuse of tax dollars at the worst possible time.”

“How can Kenney look taxpayers in the eye right now and tell them he dropped thousands of dollars on a charter flight to Saskatoon?” said Franco Terrazzano, Alberta director of the CTF.

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“Albertans didn’t vote for Kenney to waste tax dollars on fancy charter plane rides,” he said. “Albertans voted for Kenney to clean up the culture at the legislature and this is the same old frivolous culture that has plagued taxpayers for years.

“Kenney needs to fix this culture immediately.”

READ MORE: Alberta budget 2019 includes cuts to cities, civil servants, universities

The cost of the flight was revealed by the NDP during executive council budget discussions Thursday.

Notley also raised a number of other topics during the meeting, including concerns with the referendum the premier says will be held on equalization. The NDP leader questioned why Kenney i threatening to hold a referendum on equalization, even though Alberta has no direct power to change the constitutionally protected federal funding program.

Kenney has said he will hold a referendum on equalization payments if there is not progress on initiatives, such as pipelines, to get more of Alberta’s oil and gas to market.

READ MORE: Alberta Election Fact Check: Could Alberta end or change equalization?

Notley suggested a referendum would be a potentially divisive, grandstanding power play, which would echo Quebec’s votes on separation.

“You claim that you’re a federalist, but do you honestly think it is responsible to ask Albertans to cast their ballot and to get worked up over an equalization provision … when you know that the likelihood of being able to amend that Constitution is about zero?” Notley asked Kenney.

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“Do you think it is responsible … to put to the people of Alberta that they vote on something that you know you cannot deliver, and then turn around and speak out of the other side of your mouth about how you’re worried about concerns around western separatism?”

Kenney said he resents “the leader of the Opposition casting aspersions on my loyalty. I have always been, through my entire life, clear that I am and always will be a proud Canadian.”

Kenney told Notley he knows the vote can’t change the constitution but it would spotlight a fundamental unfairness, given Alberta delivers billions of dollars to other provinces through equalization payments and it’s frustrated about national policies hindering growth of its economy.

With files from Tom Vernon, Global News and The Canadian Press.