Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Bureaucrats Kept Redford in Dark on Cheaper South Africa Trip Options: Staff

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Bureaucrats Kept Redford in Dark on Cheaper South Africa Trip Options: Staff

Article excerpt

Redford takes $15K flight despite options

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EDMONTON - Confusion and finger-pointing over Premier Alison Redford's $45,000 trip to Nelson Mandela's funeral continued Thursday as her office suggested bureaucrats kept her staff in the dark about cheaper flight options.

Part of the $45,000 bill included a cross-country trip on an Alberta government plane to Ottawa, so that Redford could meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper's delegation heading to South Africa.

Redford's office said earlier this week the premier had to take the government plane because there were no commercial flights available.

But the Opposition Wildrose party noted Thursday that Air Canada had a flight landing in Ottawa about two hours before Redford had to be on the tarmac with Harper.

An Air Canada spokeswoman confirmed there were open seats on that flight, which involved a trip from Calgary to Winnipeg and then from Winnipeg to Ottawa.

"While we cannot disclose specific numbers, both flights on Dec. 8 departed with open seats," Angela Mah confirmed in an email.

WestJet also had a direct flight from Calgary to Ottawa that day, but a spokesman declined to disclose seat availability.

Redford's spokeswoman, Neala Barton, said in an email that the premier's office was given two flight options from bureaucrats in the International and Intergovernmental Relations Department, but neither could guarantee Redford would arrive in Ottawa on time.

"As a result, the decision was made to take the government plane," Barton wrote.

She said the Air Canada flight was not one of the options presented, but she declined to discuss why.

Redford is under fire for racking up a $45,000 bill to take herself and an aide to South Africa, even though flights there and back, as well as accommodations, were taken care of by the federal government.

In contrast, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil took the same trip to Mandela's funeral for less than $1,000.

Wildrose finance critic Rob Anderson said Redford doesn't understand how the issue has affected taxpayers on a visceral level.

"It's not the billion-dollar boondoggles that seem to have the most effect on people. …

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