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Repay taxpayers, MLA tells minister
Attending posh wedding not appropriate use of public money by Ramsay, says Bromley

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Friday, August 14, 2015

A Yellowknife MLA is calling on Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister David Ramsay to reimburse taxpayers for the more than $1,000 he claimed in expenses to attend a wedding in Quebec this past winter.

Weledeh MLA Bob Bromley said it was not an appropriate use of taxpayer money and Ramsay should pay it back.

"Definitely he should. We need a lot more transparency on ministerial parties' travel," Bromley said. "Ministers and their accompanists all need to be accounted for in public transparency in clear travel costs."

Bromley said he will raise the issue with his colleagues in caucus and then decide where he thinks it should go from here.

Ramsay said he expensed $1,093.06 to attend the wedding at the posh Chateau Montebello Hotel and Resort Complex for Labrador Liberal MP Yvonne Jones and Joseph Lauzon, vice-president of corporate affairs for Canadian Zinc Corporation. The company owns the Prairie Creek zinc, lead and copper project, which is currently working toward becoming an operational mine in the Deh Cho region. Ramsay's expenses included hotel costs, a rental car and per diems (meal allowances).

Ramsay has defended the expenses, calling the wedding an opportunity to get together with some key figures and the best use of his travel time. He said it was more economical for him to attend the wedding than it would have been to fly home in between meetings on the trip. He was on his way to Toronto and then Washington D.C. after the wedding, he said.

Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins also takes issue with Ramsay's expense claims. He has written a letter to Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger calling for an independent review of all of Ramsay's expenses for the past year.

Ministers authorize their own expense claims, but their reports go through the finance department for oversight, according to assistant comptroller Louise Lavoie with the department.

Hawkins said he is concerned because it appears to him that Ramsay claimed a meal allowance from the wedding.

"Do not most weddings feed their guests, especially weddings held at extravagant resorts like Montebello?" Hawkins asked. "If the minister had claimed meals at an event where they had been supplied, that alone, if I understand correctly, is a breach and must be accounted for. If the minister has filed a claim in bad faith I believe it is a contravention of the Financial Administration Act and therefore I would request an independent investigation immediately into this matter," Hawkins stated in his letter to Miltenberger.

Hawkins said he gives credit to Premier Bob McLeod, who also attended the wedding, but paid for his own expenses.

"He chose to recognize this as a personal event and as such he chose the right course of action by paying his own way," Hawkins said.

Hawkins also thinks Ramsay should tread lightly and avoid getting too cozy with executives that he might have to make important decisions about down the road, he said.

"The perceived relationship issue (Ramsay) may have had by chumming with industry in such a way ... to call it a direct conflict with the (oil and gas) regulator may be a bit of a stretch, but when you're super comfortable with these folks ... how do you face these problems with a clear mind if you ever had to make a choice about supporting an initiative or not?" Hawkins asked.

Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro said she does not believe it was a misuse of taxpayers' money.

"I take David at his word that it was cheaper for him to stay and spend $1,000 than it was for him to go do something else," Bisaro said.

Range Lake MLA Daryl Dolynny said he expects he will address the issue with Ramsay.

"I don't know all the variables in this case but I will be speaking to him about it," Dolynny said. "I would want to refrain from commenting on any one member's expenses. It's up to them to defend, not me."

Ramsay responded to Yellowknifer questions about whether he intends to pay the money back, conflict of interest issues and an investigation of his expenses with an e-mail statement:

"The NWT is a remote jurisdiction and duty travel is a necessary part of the job for all ministers and MLAs and there are rules to manage that travel. The GNWT's rules for duty travellers are intended to maximize the productive time of employees who are on the road for government business and the expenses claimed during my extended duty travel at the end of February and beginning of March were allowed under those rules.

"The NWT is a small jurisdiction and it is impossible to not know many of the people who are doing business here. The GNWT has carefully considered the issue of conflict of interest and instituted the necessary processes and guidelines for cabinet and staff to ensure decisions are fair and impartial.

"While my claim was made in good faith and in keeping with the GNWT's duty travel rules, I have already asked the comptroller-general to do an independent review of the trip in question to ensure that all expenses were in order and to advise me on any further steps I could have taken to demonstrate that all claimed expenses were appropriate and in the public interest. I look forward to hearing from him and will be sure to act on his advice and recommendations."

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