SASKATOON – The Saskatchewan New Democratic Party (NDP) will scrap the province’s executive aircraft program and end its excessive use by government officials if it wins power in April, according to the party’s leader.
“It’s time to end the gravy plane for politicians,” said NDP Leader Cam Broten to reporters Thursday, near Saskatoon’s airport.
“This special perk needs to stop and it needs to stop now.”
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Saskatchewan currently has three planes that the premier and cabinet ministers use for travel. Broten said he would sell two and convert the remaining one to an air ambulance to be based up north.
“That’s the proper use of a government airplane,” said Broten of the plan.
“Saskatchewan is the only province in the entire country that still has these special planes at the beck and call of the premier and the cabinet, it needs to stop,” he added.
Air travel is necessary for the Saskatchewan government to conduct business, according to Education Minister Don Morgan. He added that despite other provinces having grounded their fleets; Saskatchewan’s planes were more reliable and less expensive compared to hiring a charter.
“The per mile cost of our aircraft is about four dollars per mile, the private charter service is ten dollars per mile plus much higher standby charge,” said Morgan, at the party’s cabinet office in Saskatoon Thursday.
“We have reduced the cost of operating aircraft, but we absolutely need to have them.”
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Morgan added that government aircraft use has been necessary in recent month. After a mass shooting in La Loche, Sask., numerous government officials made the trip to the northern community.
“I went to La Loche earlier in the year, I went to Cumberland House, we traveled to some northern points where it would be possible to have got there by road, but it would have made it a week long process instead of a day long process,” said Morgan.
“Those are the type of things we can and we should be doing as a government to make sure that we serve the people all the way across the province.”
However, the NDP is highlighting what they call “excessive use” by certain government officials. Broten singled out Economy Minister Bill Boyd in particular, alleging that he charged roughly $400,000 to taxpayers this term in flight costs and on 279 occasions had a plane pick him up or drop him off at his home community.
“That’s ridiculous, there’s no need to be spending that kind of money just to chauffer Bill Boyd around the province,” said Broten.
A document released by the NDP to the media shows that on July 10, 2014, Boyd flew between his home community of Eston, Sask. and Regina on four separate flights. The party states they received the document from a Freedom of Information request.
Morgan said he couldn’t speak to the specifics of Boyd’s travel, but added that “the nature of the work is that you are essentially doing business all the way across the province, you want to be accessible to the people of the province.”
On another occasion in July 2015, Deputy Premier Don McMorris’ entire family flew between Saskatoon and Regina, according to records obtained by Global News. His two sons, both professional snowboarders, appeared at a charity event in Saskatoon that evening.
“It’s a pretty easy trip along Highway 11 to get back and forth and that’s what most people in the province do,” said Broten.
“It’s a clear example of not only Bill Boyd’s inappropriate use, but the inappropriate use by other cabinet ministers.”
Morgan said McMorris’ travel was “certainly within the scope of the rules,” as family members are allowed to fly on the service if there are no other government officials that need to travel and seats would otherwise go empty.
“Family members travel on a standby basis, they may or may not go, the aircraft is going anyway, the seats are empty,” said Morgan.
“The jobs that we do, we are away from home all week long and if it gives the opportunity to spend some time together, great, so much the better.”