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Politics Health Minister Jane Philpott to repay $520 for Air Canada lounge access

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott speaks to the media at the Liberal cabinet retreat in Sudbury, Ont., on Aug. 21, 2016.

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The controversy surrounding Jane Philpott's travel expenses grew Monday as evidence surfaced that the federal Liberal health minister billed taxpayers $520 for access to Air Canada's executive airport lounges in North America and Europe.

Late Monday, the minister promised to repay the money after the Opposition Conservatives used the Access to Information Act to obtain the receipt for the one-year "Maple Leaf Club North America Plus" membership.

A copy of the document was provided to The Canadian Press.

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Tory MP Colin Carrie, who is health critic in the Conservative shadow cabinet, said the Air Canada expense reflects a broader trend of "excess and entitlement" on the part of the minister and the Liberal government.

"It is another example of the minister's lack of judgment and disrespect for the Canadian taxpayer," he said.

Aaron Wudrick, the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, echoed Carrie's sentiments earlier in the day.

"The things that are reasonable expenses are things that are directly related to their job," Wudrick said. "I cannot see what the possible connection would be between her needing lounge access and ability to do her job."

Spokesman Andrew MacKendrick told The Canadian Press late Monday that Philpott intends to repay the $520.

In a statement, Philpott said she has already directed her department to review all of her expenses, vowing to fully reimburse any other filings found to be inappropriate.

"I apologize and we will take steps to ensure this does not happen again," she said.

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Last week, Philpott said she would repay $3,700 in high-end car service costs after it was revealed she billed for $1,700 on one day and more than $1,900 on another day.

The minister's department is also reviewing 20 trips to Toronto Pearson International Airport that cost a total of $3,815 to see if taxpayers were charged fair-market value.

The car service — used to take the minister between work events — was provided by a limo company owned by a volunteer who canvassed for Philpott in the last election.

NDP MP Charlie Angus said he is concerned about what could be a pattern of entitlement.

"It is still early days, so we have to see whether these patterns are going to form into something," Angus said.

"What concerns me is this sense of entitlement right off the bat. She doesn't have access to the executive lounge so taxpayers should pay the $500 so she can go sit and have a free drink and get ... taco chips. I think that attitude is of concern and it raises red flags."

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Angus said he is also concerned about the overall handling of the issue by the prime minister.

"He said they were going to do government differently," he said.

"We are not asking ministers to bring bag lunches but these kinds of expenses, they're really not necessary."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made his first public remarks about the spending controversy in Sudbury, Ont. on Monday.

"This situation was a reminder for all of us to be extremely careful about our expenses and about the public trust that we wield," Trudeau said standing in front of his cabinet including Philpott.

Wudrick said his watchdog group welcomes the prime minister's statement, but he said "talk is cheap" and words need to be followed by action.

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