Sask. government spends $150K on overseas trips, $7K on visit to see Doug Ford
Trade and Export Minister Jeremy Harrison's overseas trips cost $90K
Travel expense reports for Saskatchewan's premier and cabinet ministers for five months show more than $148,000 spent on overseas trips and $7,000 on a trip to visit Doug Ford.
The government recently posted its travel expenses from Oct. 1, 2018, to March 31, 2019.
Premier Scott Moe took four trips during that period. His travel mission to New Delhi and Mumbai, India in November and December cost $59,514. Moe was accompanied by MLA Everett Hindley and four other government staffers.
Moe took three other trips: to Washington, D.C., Montreal and Toronto. The visit to Toronto was Moe's first to see Ontario Premier Doug Ford, where the two signed a memorandum of understanding on interprovincial trade.
Government officials also met with the Canada-India Business Council. Deputy premier Gord Wyant accompanied the premier to Toronto. The total cost of the two-day visit was $7,047. The government's expense report focused mainly on objectives related to the province and India.
It also mistakenly identified the Ontario premier as his late brother, referring to "meeting with Ontario Premier Rob Ford to discuss interprovincial trade."
Trade minister logs most kilometres
Minister of Trade and Export Jeremy Harrison was the busiest traveller over the last few months, taking trips to Israel, Singapore and the Philippines.
Wyant and four government staffers went as well, with the week-long trip to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem costing a total of $56,378.
According to the government expense report, the Israel trip included meetings with three Israeli non-profit organizations "to share experiences and approaches related to encouraging the academic and personal success of underrepresented groups."
Another meeting "encouraged two leading drone companies to consider establishing a North American base of operations in Saskatchewan."
NDP leader criticizes travel spending
Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili called the premier's trip to Toronto to meet with Ford "a stunt."
He also took issue with the expenses involved in the trade mission to Israel, saying ministers took first-class flights overseas and stayed at "very expensive hotels."
Meili said both ministers Wyant and Harrison flew first class to Israel at a cost of $4,000 and stayed in $400 per night hotels.
He also alleged they charged per diems when "they are hosting meetings [and] having their meals paid for at those meetings."
"These are behaviours that aren't really in keeping with having some standards of not being too luxurious when they travel, when you look at the way they are asking Saskatchewan people to tighten their belts," he said.
"I'm concerned you have got a lot of big fancy trips without a whole lot to show for those efforts."
"The allegations made by the leader of the Opposition are unfounded and disappointing," a government spokesperson said in response to Meili's comments.
"When business class is used for these international flights, it is used to ensure that representatives of Saskatchewan are able to commence trade missions as soon as they are on the ground."
The government also disputed that ministers charged per diems when they were provided meals.
Travel not slowing down: minister
Harrison said because 60 per cent of the goods Saskatchewan produces are exported, it's necessary for ministers and the premier to travel abroad.
"We have a federal government that has failed on front after front on trade issues," Harrison said, citing trade issues in China, India, Italy and Saudi Arabia that affect Saskatchewan.
"We made a decision that we are going to engage as a province to defend and enhance those trade interests internationally. We're going to continue to do that going forward very assertively."
Harrison said the province could be travelling with the federal government to Japan and South Korea to diversify the canola market, given the ongoing canola trade dispute with China.
The trip in March to Singapore and the Philippines was Harrison's first mission to those countries, and cost a total of $32,306.
Travel included a meeting with Filipino education officials to discuss "the potential path to citizenship open to Filipino students that choose to study in Saskatchewan," the expense report says.
In Singapore, among other initiatives, the minister "cultivated relationships with major Singaporean food processors and agriculture commodity buyers in order to expand trade."
Only five other ministers travelled over the reporting period, with all of those trips within North America.
Minister of Energy and Resources Bronwyn Eyre and six government officials attended the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada's convention in Toronto in March.
The total cost of the trip was $21,321. Of that, $6,375 was spent to host and co-host a round table at the convention.
Meili called the cost of Eyre's trip "really questionable."
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the total costs of trips, saying the government had spent $14,000 on a trip to Toronto and more than $200,000 on overseas travel. In fact, the government records total costs more than once in its report if more than one minister is involved, so the total cost of the Toronto trip was $7,000 and the total for overseas trips was $148,000.May 07, 2019 1:55 PM CT