Christy Clark has spent more than half-a-million dollars on private flights in the past five years, but the Premier’s office is defending the expense as necessary and says it falls within the annual budgets.
Freelance journalist Bob Mackin got the total from documents obtained via Freedom of Information legislation for a story published in The Tyee late last week. He noted that more than $65,000 was spent on charter flights between Vancouver and Kelowna since July, 2013, when Ms. Clark was elected the MLA for Westside-Kelowna in a by-election.
Combined, Air Canada and WestJet offer about a dozen flights daily between the two locations.
“The trend that I really zeroed in on was the travel to and from Kelowna,” Mr. Mackin said on Sunday. “She’s the MLA for Kelowna and she seems to go there quite often just for photo ops, just for news conferences.”
The Premier often travels with a small entourage, including an assistant, press secretary and videographer.
Fifteen of 17 Kelowna charter trips from October, 2013, to November, 2015, had same-day returns, Mr. Mackin found. This included two round-trip flights on consecutive days last July for photo opportunities with B.C. firefighters while wildfires swept the province. For Ms. Clark and her entourage, which included a press secretary and RCMP bodyguard, the two round-trip flights totalled $7,350.
Ben Chin, executive director of communications for Ms. Clark, defended the expenses, saying the Premier takes commercial flights when it is possible and efficient.
“Because of the demands on her time, we do charter flights when necessary so long as the per passenger cost is as close to commercial rates as possible,” he said in a statement.
In an interview, Mr. Chin explained that the consecutive charter trips were necessary as the Premier had to return for cabinet one day and a meeting with Petronas CEO Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin the next.
Mr. Chin said the Premier’s Office also uses video- and teleconferencing for internal meetings.
NDP Opposition House Leader Mike Farnworth called the expenses – and the Vancouver-Kelowna flights in particular – “ridiculous.”
“It really is quite unbelievable that at the same time the government is clawing back bus passes from people with disabilities, the priority of the Premier is to get back to her riding using a private jet,” Mr. Farnworth said on Sunday.
“The idea that you would need a jet to get to Kelowna is just ridiculous. To me, it’s symptomatic of what happens when the Premier is disconnected from the realities of everyday British Columbians, much in the same way that Alison Redford was in Alberta. It’s a sense of entitlement.”
Alberta’s Auditor-General said that province’s former premier had “used public resources inappropriately,” releasing a report in 2014 that found Ms. Redford used government planes for “personal and partisan purposes,” usually travelled business class and claimed as expenses hotel stays that reached as much as $825 a night abroad.
Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, expressed concern that details of Ms. Clark’s travel expenses were revealed only under freedom-of-information legislation.
“It’s ridiculous that Bob had to file an FOI to get it,” he said. “It should be pro-active disclosure.”
The B.C. Premier’s monthly travel expenses, which are posted online monthly, do not include details such as exact date, destination or reason for travel.
Ms. Clark’s other one-day, round-trip flight expenses between Vancouver and Kelowna include $3,290 to attend the 2014 B.C. Wine Awards, and $3,670 to participate in a news conference on upgrades to Westside Road. On both trips, the Premier was joined by a handful of others.Report Typo/Error