News / Calgary

Alberta MLA expenses: From $2 cookies to $12K banquets and much more

There's the pricey — high-end banquets, Stampede breakfasts to feed thousands.

There's the extravagant — premium-grade gas, car detailing.

And there's the teeny-weeny — $2 spent on cookies, $1.89 on coffee cream.

All of the above and much more are detailed in two years' worth of Alberta MLA constituency expenses, which were first required to be made public in the fourth quarter of 2012.

That quarter, Sohail Quadri, Tory MLA for Edmonton-MIll Woods, billed taxpayers for a $12,500 Christmas party. It appears to be the largest single expense on record.

Metro added up the bills for every MLA with the exception of four elected in October byelections.

Calgary-Hawkwood MLA Jason Luan was one of three to top Quadri in total charges, racking $41,735, nearly half spent on hosting.

By comparison, over the same duration, Edmonton-Glenora's Heather Klimchuk and Edmonton-Castle Downs' Thomas Lukaszuk kept their costs to $3,648.62 and $4,555.80, respectively.

The big-time discrepancy is spurring calls for some MLAs to think before they splurge.

"I hope these MLAs feel somewhat embarrassed that their spending is so out of whack with what some of the other MLAs are spending and, of course, what we would spend in the private sector,” said Paige MacPherson, Alberta director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Good hosts?

The PC party's parties, in particular, appear to cost a pretty penny when compared to those held by their opponents across the legislative floor.

A Metro analysis specifically of the hosting bills recouped by every MLA in the province from the end of 2012 to the end of 2014 revealed the top 28 big spenders all are or were members of the Progressive Conservative party.

The only outlier in the pack was Kerry Towle, the MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, who crossed the floor from the Wildrose to the PCs late last year.

"It sounds like she's fitting into the right party," said Brian Jean, the current leader of the Wildrose.

He questioned the necessity of many hosting events and said he suspects they're held for partisan reasons.

Jean said big-time banquet bills and the like wouldn't fly in Ottawa, where he previously served as a federal MP for the Fort McMurray area.

"We didn't have these kind of expense claims, we didn't have this kind of opportunity and nor should we have this kind of opportunity," he said. "It's just outrageous."

Jean said if his party forms government, "There will be none of this in the future."

"We're cutting all the perks — free gas, free oil changes, free car washes — all that stuff is gone," he said. "Other Albertans that pay the taxes don't get that stuff for free."

Two Tory MLAs, Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Sohail Quadri ($26,023) Calgary-Hawkwood Jason Luan ($20,836) each singlehandedly spent more on hosting than the five Liberal MLA representatives combined ($17,702) and the four NDP members ($10,040).

MLA defends his expensing habits

But in an interview Thursday, Luan defended his bills, especially one for an Aging in Place Fair he helped organize last October and spent $3,000 on.

He said when he was approached about the event, organizers expected it to cost about $20,000, but he was able to secure donations and sponsorships to cut down on the final tab expensed to taxpayers.

“We know the hosting was high, but the leveraged money to the community was even higher,” he said.

He said the event was an opportunity to talk about the issue of seniors who are looking for help staying in their homes.

“It’s helping seniors stay in our community, by bringing services to our community,” he said. “I know there was a will for the community, so what I did was I squeezed the budget from my office.”

Luan admits the $5,000 he spent on a Calgary Stampede barbecue is also high, but said the event attracts more than 3,000 people and the local community association picks up half the cost.

“In these tight economic times, I don’t know if I am going to be able to continue offering that," he said.

In an email, PC campaign spokesperson Mike Storeshaw said the party’s MLAs are all following the guidelines for expenses.

"All MLAs have the ability to host events for constituents as part of their community outreach," Storeshaw said. "MLAs have budgets for all constituency activities, allocated by the Legislative Assembly Office.”

Quadri did not respond to request for an interview. But earlier this year he stirred controversy when Metro reported on a $5,000 banquet expense claim he submitted with no details on how many attended or what exactly the money was spent on.

Taxpayers perspective

But MacPherson said she believes MLAs should be required to foot the bill for events where they are unable to produce a proper receipt.

MacPherson said she took less issue with the teeny expenses — some MLAs bill for items like a single cookie or cup of coffee.

Still, she said, "Those are things that, if you really had top of mind that taxpayers are footing the bill, you would pay for it yourself."

Overall, the average Tory MLA spent $5,307 on hosting, compared to $3,540 spent by the average Liberal and $2,090 spent on average by the five remaining Wildrosers after the December floor-crossings.

The NDP appeared to be the most frugal when it came to hosting, with its four members spending an average of $2,008 over the past two years.

A (long) list of spending highlights:

• Alana DeLong, Calgary-Bow

Held back-to-back banquets at Holy Smokes BBQ for 400 people in 2013 and 2014, each at a cost of $6,935

• David Xiao, Edmonton-McClung

Held a community open house for $4,105 at Sagar East & West Indian cuisine in late 2014. Provided no receipts or details

• Donald Scott, Fort McMurray-Conklin

Spent $250 getting his vehicle detailed on Feb. 2, 2013

• Frank Oberle, Peace River

Multiple stops at Cupid's Car Wash & Detailing in Edmonton, including one for a "truck wash" that cost $59.85 on Feb. 5, 2014

• Gene Zwozdesky, Edmonton-Mill Creek

Spent $8,000 at Maharaja Banquet Hall for a Christmas open house Dec. 23, 2013. Expenses included hall rent, food, audio/video. The next year, he spent $4,000 for the same event

• Jason Hale, Strathmore-Brooks

Spent $2,977.28 to offset event costs for the Alberta beef celebration on Sept. 7, 2013

• Jason Luan, Calgary-Hawkwood

Spent $3,000 in support of an Aging in Place fair on Oct. 4, 2014

• Jason Luan, Calgary-Hawkwood

Spent more than $5,000 on his annual Stampede BBQ at the Arbour Lake Resident’s Association, no receipts are in the expense disclosure

• Jonathan Denis, Calgary-Acadia

Spent $5,200 on premixed pancake batter and pork sausages for a July 7, 2014 Stampede breakfast

• Moe Amery, Calgary-East

Spent $250 getting his own vehicle detailed on Jan. 26, 2013

• Manmeet Bhullar, Calgary-Greenway

Spent $7,828.70 on veggie burgers, hot dogs, napkins and more for a Stampede lunch at the Don Hartman North East Sportsplex

• Naresh Bhardwaj, Edmonton-Ellerslie

Spent $45.10 at Bubbles Car Wash & Detail, including $5 on an "interior deodorizer," on July 6, 2013

• Naresh Bhardwaj, Edmonton-Ellerslie

Spent $1,250 for a constituency buffet dinner for 90 people, no reason given

• Sohail Quadri, Edmonton-Mill Woods

Spent $5,000 on a community event marking the first anniversary of his election

• Sohail Quadri, Edmonton-Mill Woods

Spent $4,500 for a Christmas party on Dec. 18, 2013 and another $3,000 for a Christmas party two days prior on Dec. 16, 2013

• Sohail Quadri, Edmonton-Mill Woods

Spent $12,500 for a Christmas Party in Dec. 2012, the first quarter in which MLAs were required to submit expenses

• Alana DeLong, Calgary-Bow

$1.89 on coffee cream at 7-Eleven on March 14, 2013

• Jason Luan, Calgary-Hawkwood

Spent $4 on cookies and candy on June 12, 2014 for a constituent meeting and $2.80 for milk on May 12, 2014

The full, aggregated chart of MLA expense claims:

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