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Alberta Premier Redford hopes to put pricey Mandela funeral trip behind her

Alberta Premier Alison Redford spent much of February in damage-control mode after the disclosure of her $45,000 December trip to attend the funeral of South African leader Nelson Mandela.

JEFF McINTOSH/The Globe and Mail

Premier Alison Redford said she believes most Albertans and her caucus want to get past the expense controversy after her office's decision to charge a pricey South African trip to the public purse.

The wrangling is sure to continue when the legislature resumes next week. Already, the Alberta Premier spent much of February in damage-control mode after the disclosure of her $45,000 December trip to attend, with other Canadian political leaders, the funeral of South African leader Nelson Mandela – whom she worked for in the 1990s during the post-apartheid rebuilding process.

Another expensive trade trip to India and Switzerland followed in January. But domestic issues came crashing down on the Premier as she returned home. Although she refused calls to pay the money back, she did apologize for the $45,000 cost.

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On Thursday Ms. Redford apologized again.

"I've listened very carefully over the last month to what Albertans have said," she told Calgary reporters. "I don't dismiss the fact that there were some questions."

The Premier noted the trip is only an issue because of the province's "gold standard of expense accounting," in which all expenses, including receipts, for cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats are posted online.

She said people have raised the issue with her but most accept the government has to travel to open new markets for Alberta's oil and other commodities.

"And we'll move on from there."

However, the controversy is sure to be Question Period fodder for the fiscally conservative Wildrose party as Alberta's legislature opens Monday with a Throne Speech. And it's not just the Official Opposition that has taken issue. A member of her caucus, former whip Steve Young, spoke out this month, saying the cost of the trip is "inconsistent with Alberta values."

Some party members continue to grumble about the political cost of the trip. One caucus member said Thursday the issue provides the opposition with a powerful "distraction" in the legislature. A constituency president said he continues to hear frustration from family and friends, on the $45,000 trip – a number with which people can easily relate, unlike budget numbers in the billions.

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However, Leduc-Beaumont MLA George Rogers said the caucus was buoyed by positive results in the province's third-quarter update this week, and is focused on the new session and budget ahead. "I think the mood is very good," he said.

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