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Premier Clark takes flight on taxpayer dime

More than $55,000 spent on premier's air travel

Taxpayers were billed more than $55,000 to send Premier Christy Clark and aides on eight flights in six months with a B.C. Liberal Party-connected airline, according to documents obtained via Freedom of Information.

Clark traveled via Blackcomb Aviation for news conferences in B.C. and regional summits outside the province. The charter company is co-owned by the McLean Group, whose chairman David McLean donated $209,707.50 to the Liberals via CN Rail, Pacific Production Support and Vancouver Film Studios since 2005.

The government paid Blackcomb Aviation $2,196,440 for the fiscal year ended March 31, according to Public Accounts. McLeans son Sacha, the airlines CEO, donated $23,035 in flights to Clarks leadership campaign in January and February.

The eight flights on either Cessna 510 or 550 aircraft between March and August cost $55,154.27, including almost $20,000 for a six-person round-trip to Yellowknife, N.W.T. The governments travel policy states: the use of chartered aircraft by employees must only be approved when there is no alternative means of transportation at a lesser cost, and within a reasonable time.

"B.C. was a leader in the country by stopping the use the of government jets, but obviously charter flights are a loophole to get around that," said Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman. When you're running a $3.1 billion deficit this year, you need to take a hard look at every single expense.

The name of a person on each flight was censored under security provisions of the FOI law. Clark is regularly shadowed by an RCMP officer at public appearances.

Clark, her assistant Jessica Hodge, deputy press secretary Rebecca Scott and a fourth personwhose identity was deemed not responsive to the FOI requesttravelled on a March 18 round-trip from Vancouver to Prince George to open the University of Northern B.C. bioenergy plant.

Clark, deputy minister John Dyble, associate deputy minister Pierrette Maranda, chief of staff Mike McDonald, events coordinator Katherine Bergen and Energy and Mines Minister John Yap flew May 19 on a $3,644.70 Vancouver to Seattle round-trip to meet with Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire.

A week later, Clark, Hodge, press secretary Chris Olsen and three unnamed people travelled from Vancouver to Cranbrook for town hall meetings. Bergen was on the return leg. At the events, Clark was joined by Forests Minister Steve Thomson, backbench MLA Bill Bennett, Conservative MP David Wilks and Doug Clovechok, an Invermere Liberal candidate.

Clark, Hodge and Olsen went round-trip from Vancouver to Prince George for a June 9 announcement of $1.35 million for the B.C. Cattlemens Association ranch fencing program.

On June 20, Clark, Hodge, Maranda, principal secretary Dimitri Pantazopoulos and a person deemed not responsive flew from Vancouver to Yellowknife, N.W.T. for the Western Premiers summit. On June 22, they returned to Vancouver via Calgary. Blackcomb Aviation invoiced for $19,468.77.

Clark, Hodge and Pantazopoulos flew Vancouver to Spokane, Wash. and Coeur dAlene, Idaho for the Western Governors Association summit on June 29.

Outreach director Pamela Martin joined Clark, Hodge, Olsen, Bergen and an undisclosed person flew July 7 from Vancouver to Terrace for the reopening of Pacific BioEnergys Kitwanga sawmill, which went bankrupt last week. Only Olsen and Martin flew the next day to Smithers, but the group reunited for the flight from Smithers to Vancouver.

Clark, Hodge and Olsen flew round-trip Aug. 30 from Vancouver to Kamloops to announce expanded air ambulance service. Communications coordinator Stacie Dley joined the return leg.

Air ambulance contractor Helijet International was paid $11,619,195 during the last fiscal year. Helijets Vancouver to Victoria chopper service is popular with politicians and senior bureaucrats.

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