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B.C. Speaker repays expenses claimed for husband’s South Africa trip

B.C. legislature Speaker Linda Reid has apologized for billing taxpayers for her husband’s trip.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

Nearly eight months after a trip to South Africa for a conference, B.C. Speaker of the House Linda Reid has repaid taxpayers for taking her husband along for the ride.

"If this caused anyone consternation, I sincerely apologize," Ms. Reid told reporters in her legislature office on Tuesday, hours after media began to questions the trip.

She said she has repaid $5,500 for her husband's flight, but she is still looking at the details of meals and accommodations.

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Taxpayers were billed for various expenses related to her husband Sheldon Friesen, travelling with his wife the 10-day Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference. Ms. Reid's Twitter account includes a photo of her husband petting a giraffe with the caption, "My husband making new friends."

Ms. Reid is just the latest politician forced to repay an entitlement claimed from taxpayers after publicity. The revelations come after government house leader and Finance Minister Mike de Jong ordered cabinet ministers earlier this year to fly economy on government business.

"We are going through some significant changes in this legislature when it comes to transparency and accountability. We are going to continue to do that work," said Ms. Reid, the six-term Richmond East MLA.

She said she would work towards a new policy on such matters that would satisfy the public, but did not disclose what such an approach would be. Ms. Reid defended the decision to take her husband, saying it has been "past practice," but said that now has to evolve. "It's what this place has always done, they tell me. If you can get two flights for less than a business class flight, you can do that," she said.

The question of the Speaker's spending comes as political circles are ringing with debate over entitlements. NDP MLA Jenny Kwan last week announced she was taking a "leave of absence" after it was revealed that funds from the publicly funded Portland Hotel Society, which runs various anti-poverty programs, were used to pay for Ms. Kwan's family vacations.

Ms. Kwan agreed to repay $35,000 for the travel to Disneyland in California as well as Europe, noting she believed assurances from her husband that he had paid for the costs when, in fact, the costs were covered by PHS where he worked.

The Reid matter also comes days after Alison Redford stepped down as Alberta premier over weeks of criticism due to her use of entitlements, as well as her management of relations with her caucus.

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Ms. Reid has previously faced questions over expensive renovations to the legislature that include a members lounge with free muffins and $13,965 for new drapes in the legislature dining room. Overall, the renovations cost more than $131,000. There was also $48,412 for the design and construction of a custom touch screen computer terminal at the Speaker's chair.

The situation with Ms. Kwan has put the opposition into the unaccustomed position of grappling with political scandal that includes questions about what role Ms. Kwan might take when she returns from a leave of absence she has taken to deal with the fallout from the PHS matter.

"It's not very good for us, that's obvious," NDP Leader Adrian Dix said in an interview earlier this week. "But my greatest concern is on the policy question: I'm very committed to efforts to reduce poverty directly and this audit – these expense claims – undermines those efforts. I'm not very happy about that."

Asked if Ms. Kwan might return as poverty critic, Mr. Dix would only say she will eventually be back in the legislature representing Vancouver-Mount Pleasant.

Follow me on Twitter: @ianabailey

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