Alberta tourism minister 'sorry' for Olympic spending gaffes

Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Tourism Minister Christine Cusanelli.



EDMONTON — Another spending mishap related to Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s Olympic triumph left Tourism Minister Christine Cusanelli making apologies Thursday.

Cusanelli tallied up 31 bookkeeping faux pas -- including using a government card to pay for airline tickets to London for Cusanelli’s mother and 14-year-old daughter to accompany her to the Olympics and billing taxpayers for her Edmonton hotel rooms despite having received an MLA living allowance for that purpose.

She reimbursed taxpayers for the airline tickets in August, and the other 30 mistakes she paid for in November. In total, Cusanelli wrote cheques totalling $10,000 to return the cash.

Derek Fildebrandt, the Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said an outsider should investigate whether Cusanelli had an intent to pay back the personal expenses, apparently revealed as the government prepared to post expenses online.

“The Olympic junket has been botched, a scandal from top to bottom,” said Fildebrandt of the summer travel extravaganza that cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands — including $114,000 for unused hotel rooms.

But the biggest problem, he said, was Cusanelli double-dipping for hotels when her MLA living allowance covers Edmonton living.

“Everyone knows that. If you don’t know that you’re not fit for serious office,” Fildebrandt said.

Cusanelli, who was awarded the province’s top tourism post as a fledgling legislator after her April win in Calgary-Currie, is a former school principal. She said Thursday the problem was categorization of expenses.

“I reimbursed any expenses that upon consultation with my accountant or bookkeepers that needed to be categorized say as an MLA expense or a non-ministerial expense or a travel expense, so just to categorize them appropriately,” she said, adding that she is clear now on the expense policy.

“I’m a minister, I’m an MLA, I’ve held leadership roles for a very long time, for me this is me saying to Albertans, ‘You can hold me accountable, I voluntarily show you, here are the expenses that have been incurred, here are the errors that we’ve made and should anybody think that their taxpayer dollars were being misused, I would apologize and I have apologized sincerely,’” Cusanelli said.

“I want for Albertans to trust me ... What I know first is that integrity and truth and honesty is number one,” she said.

Also Thursday, Redford said she was disappointed by Cusanelli’s expense problems, noting that Cusanelli is a new minister.

“I think it’s been dealt with appropriately, and we move on from here,” Redford said.

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