MLA commuting costs highest to date

Each weekend, Premier Dennis Fentie kicks his Harley Davidson to life and roars down the Alaska Highway to Watson Lake from Whitehorse in a commute that may eat up $50 in gas. He bills taxpayers $553.88.

Each weekend, Premier Dennis Fentie kicks his Harley Davidson to life and roars down the Alaska Highway to Watson Lake from Whitehorse in a commute that may eat up $50 in gas. He bills taxpayers $553.88.

It’s just one of the perks of being a member of Yukon’s legislative assembly. And Fentie’s expenses are by no means the most extravagant of the lot.

He didn’t boogey down at the Dawson City Music Festival on the public dime, or attend a conference in Malaysia for nearly $6,000, as other MLAs have done.

But Fentie did manage to spend as much on travel as Darius Elias, who faces, by far, the biggest commute back to his fly-in only constituency of Old Crow.

Both racked up slightly more than $20,000 in travel expenses in 2008-09. By way of comparison, two other MLAs spent nearly twice as much.

It all contributes to the biggest year for travel expenditures to date. Total travel expenses add up to $293,068, up from $250,274 in 2007-08.

That’s by far the biggest jump in the past nine years. While costs have fluctuated, they hovered around $240,000 during most of that period.

Fentie took 27 trips home last year, totaling $20,263. Why so much? Thank the generous formula used to calculate the cost of mileage for Yukon government employees.

It’s why Fentie’s 900-kilometre return trip at times costs more than a 1,200-kilometre return flight to Old Crow.

Fentie’s expenses do not include those incurred while he’s travelling as a government minister. Ministerial expenses are handled separately, by the office of the executive, and are not disclosed in any public document.

The office did not provide these costs to the News before deadline.

Elias’s travel costs total $20,019. That includes 12 trips home and two other trips, costing $5,702: one to Dawson City to attend the annual gold show and another to attend a parliamentary conference in Halifax in July.

Dawson City MLA Steve Nordick, the government’s sole backbencher, had this year’s most bloated travel expense account. He billed $39,437.

That’s for 43 trips between Whitehorse and Dawson, at $656.36 a pop, and one flight to Regina for a parliamentary conference.

Neither he nor Fentie would comment on their expenses.

Gary McRobb, MLA for Kluane, came a close second. He billed $38,800 for travel.

This includes 48 trips home to Haines Junction, an additional 18 trips for travel while the legislature is in session, and $5,930 to attend a parliamentary trip to Malaysia in August.

He’s one of three MLAs to make the overseas trip, at the public’s expense, to attend a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference.

Marian Horne and Ted Staffen are the other two.

McRobb’s trip cost $5,930. By comparison, Horne billed $3,720, and Staffen only billed $909.26.

Why the difference? McRobb is the only one who was charged $3,584.85 in observer fees. Much of Staffen’s bill was picked up because, as house speaker, he’s sent annually and is an association member.

The total cost of sending the three is reported as $10,559.

MLAs draw names each year to decide who attends the conference, which is frequently held in a tropical location.

Such a trip is only offered “once a political lifetime,” said McRobb.

As for his commuting costs?

“It’s pretty well required when you want to be MLA for Kluane,” he said.

NDP Leader Todd Hardy, meanwhile, attended the Dawson City Music Festival in July. During the trip he met with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation. He then billed the trip as an MLA expense, totalling $1,304.

How much they billed:

MLA travel expenses for 2008-09

Steve Nordick $39,438.38

Gary McRobb $38,290.42

Eric Fairclough $23,698.16

Marian Horne $21,860.60

Dennis Fentie $20,263.46

Darius Elias $20,019.81

Patrick Rouble $10,446.56

Brad Cathers $8,042.24

Ted Staffen $7,939.69

Steve Cardiff $7,890.89

Don Inverarity $6,127.81

Arthur Mitchell $4,221.49

Todd Hardy $3,236.73

John Edzerza $1,487.11

Glenn Hart $0

Jim Kenyon $0

Archie Lang $0

Elaine Taylor $0

Source: Report on Travel Expenses of Members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly 2008 – 2009. Does not include Ministerial travel.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com

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