MLA Pat Rehn will pay back unauthorized expenses, Speaker says

Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn will have to pay back some of the 2020 meal expenses he charged to the public purse after admitting on Facebook that some were submitted in error. 

Claims are under review by legislative assembly staff

Pat Rehn (right) campaigned in the town of Slave Lake in the months leading up to the 2019 election. Municipal councils in his Lesser Slave Lake riding say he has spent very little time in the area since then. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC )

Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn will have to pay back some of the 2020 meal expenses he charged to the public purse after admitting on Facebook that some were submitted in error. 

Speaker Nathan Cooper told the standing committee on members' services on Wednesday that the Legislative Assembly Office initially approved the expenses thinking they were in order but that changed after he saw what Rehn said on social media.

"I reached out to the member immediately, as I would when I became aware of any expenses that were not submitted appropriately, and indicated to him that he would be required to repay those expenses, and he has agreed to that," Cooper said. 

The amount Rehn has to repay is still under review.

Lianne Bell, Cooper's chief of staff, said in an email to CBC News that Rehn is working with LAO staff to determine which expenses were legitimate, a process that should take no more than 30 days to resolve. 

The now-independent MLA claimed per diems for meals purchased in Edmonton for all of April, all but two days in May, most of June and every day in July. The legislature sat for five days in April and five days in May due to the pandemic. 

Sittings were more regular in June and July but Rehn even claimed meal per diems on weekends in July. In total, his per diem claims totalled $4,488 for the first two quarters of the 2020-21 fiscal year. Claims for the third quarter, which ended on Dec. 31, will be posted at the end of January. 

Rehn said on Facebook that "an assistant of mine has made some errors in recording meal allowances, that I was not aware of."

"I apologize for this, and in the future I will make sure that I personally review all expense claims before they are submitted to the province to make sure that they are correct," he said, adding that he wouldn't claim any meal allowances in 2021. 

Mexico travel 

Rehn was elected the MLA for Lesser Slave Lake in April 2019.

His troubles started just before Christmas when he posted a picture of himself on Facebook holidaying in Mexico, in contravention of direction from public health officials to avoid non-essential international travel. Premier Jason Kenney stripped him of his positions on legislature committees as punishment. 

Shortly afterwards, municipal councils in the Lesser Slave Lake constituency sent letters of rebuke to Rehn for his alleged absenteeism and lack of attention to issues in the riding. Slave Lake town council called for his resignation, a call that was echoed by the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association. 

In response, Kenney kicked Rehn out of the UCP caucus and said he would prevent him from running for the party in future elections.  

Then Rehn's publicly filed expense claims came to light, providing more evidence he spent very little time in his constituency. 

Rehn's decision to blame his assistant for submitting incorrect expenses prompted more criticism on social media. Current and former MLAs said Rehn needed to own up to the mistake as MLAs have to sign their expense claims before they send them to the LAO for reimbursement. 

Edmonton-South NDP MLA Thomas Dang proposed a motion at Wednesday's committee meeting to get Rehn to appear before the committee to explain his expenses, and to strike a subcommittee to look at ways a similar situation can be avoided in the future.

The six UCP MLAs who make up the majority on the committee voted against opening the motion up for discussion. 

CBC News has again reached out to Rehn for comment.