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Sask. Minister Harpauer defends $8K charter flight to North Battleford

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WATCH: In response to widespread criticism about the cost of a March charter flight from Regina to North Battleford and back, Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer admitted the price was “high” but says she was “exhausted” that day and that the flight was worth the cost – Jul 20, 2022

In response to widespread criticism about the cost of a March charter flight from Regina to North Battleford and back, Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer admitted the price was “high” but says she was “exhausted” that day and that the flight was worth the cost.

The March 25 flight, which public records show cost $7,872.60, took off just days after Harpauer announced a budget including increased taxes and has come under intense scrutiny since it was detailed in a report by The Canadian Press Monday.

“What I will do, for the people of Saskatchewan, I will work very long hours and I recognize that I will live away from home for the better part as a cabinet minister,” Harpauer said as nearly 30 minutes of questions began. “What I won’t do is drive when I’m exhausted.”

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Harpauer, who said the flight was arranged so that she could attend a chamber of commerce luncheon she’d been invited to, told reporters she also had plans to visit her home constituency of Humboldt-Watrous that day.

“I believe I asked for a flight to be booked because of the logistics of the timing of this particular engagement,” Harpauer said.

“It’s a high price tag. But that was something that I had chosen. I didn’t know the price tag at the time but I had asked for a flight for what I feel is important for my job as finance minister following a budget.”

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer speaks to media about March charter flight' Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer speaks to media about March charter flight
Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer speaks to media about March charter flight – Jul 19, 2022

Asked why she didn’t arrange for a taxi or driver, Harpauer said “it’s still going to be a long day because I’d have to get a driver to drive to Humboldt, and stay the weekend and come back.”

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“You have to remember that budget week is my most busy week,” Harpauer added.

“This has been a long-standing tradition. There has been a budget tour following the budget, and communities have the opportunity to gather and personally ask the minister of what’s in the budget and how it impacts them and I don’t think they should be penalized if they’re farther away from Regina.”

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Groups like the Saskatchewan NDP, Saskatchewan Liberal Party, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) and the Fitness Industry Council of Canada have all expressed concern at the cost of the trip, which takes about four hours one way by road.

“This is a flight that very easily could have been replaced by a car ride,” said Opposition NDP Leader Carla Beck Monday.

“We see people making changes to their summer plans … because they can’t afford gas, and we see one minister with one flight spending enough that someone would make in four months.”

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“It doesn’t make sense to spend $8,000 to go to North Battleford from Regina. Lots of us have done that drive, it’s not that far,” said Todd Mackay, CTF communications vice president.

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“If you get going early, you can stop at Timmies, still be there before lunch and be home in time for your kids ball game,” he said.

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Nearly 7 in 10 drivers worry they can’t afford gas as prices soar, poll finds – Jun 28, 2022

Global News looked at alternative – and much more cost efficient – modes of transportation to get to North Battleford from Regina.

Driving, with fuel costing around $1.37 in March, would have come up to about $110. A Regina cab would cost approximately $1,400. Even a limo would cost less, with a single-person ride in a Mercedes costing roughly $900 overall.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for what is either extravagant spending or poor planning; either way taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for this,” MacKay stated.

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An NDP spokesperson told Global News Beck would not be responding further to Harpauer’s comments Tuesday.

Harpauer, meanwhile, said she finds it “disappointing” people are “fixating” on the cost of the North Battleford trip alone.

“The overall travel for myself is very low. I’m not a frequent flyer,” she said, adding that while the cost was expensive she had “nothing to do with booking the flight.”

Government records indicate Harpauer’s in-province travel expenses in the 2021-22 fiscal year were $11,860.39.

Harpauer was also asked how far away a destination should be for a charter flight to be considered.

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Records show a June 4, 2019, charter flight that Premier Scott Moe took from Saskatoon to Regina, for example, cost $3,427.29.

“It depends on the schedule and why,” she said, adding “we will continue to do budget tours, and we will continue to be available and answer those questions in communities outside of Regina.”

On March 2, 2020, the Government of Saskatchewan announced that beginning in the fiscal year of 2020-21, quarterly reports of in-province ministerial travel and expenses will be published.

– with files from Global News’ Taz Dhaliwal and Mickey Djuric of The Canadian Press 

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