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Redford under fire for billing taxpayers $45,000 to go to Mandela funeral

Alberta Premier Alison Redford is shown on Nov. 17, 2011.

BLAIR GABLE/REUTERS

Opposition parties say it's time for Alberta Premier Alison Redford to stop globetrotting in high style and walk the talk on all Albertans living within their means.

Redford is being heavily criticized for billing taxpayers $45,000 to attend the funeral for former South African leader Nelson Mandela in December.

The Wildrose Official Opposition says Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil attended the same event and charged taxpayers less than $1,000.

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"It shows how far [Redford's] PCs have gone when Albertans have to look to Liberal leaders in the East to find a premier who actually respects the taxpayer," Wildrose critic Rob Anderson said Tuesday in a news release.

"This is one egregious example among many that proves this government is utterly unable to put needs before wants or to prioritize expenditures on services and programs that are critical to Albertans."

NDP Leader Brian Mason said he doesn't think the Premier has the proper respect for citizens' money.

"She loves to go on foreign trips, a number of which have simply been photo ops – massively expensive photo ops," he said.

Last month, Redford and her advisers toured India on a trade mission. She then went to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. The cost for that trip was estimated at $120,200.

Redford's office has said the $45,000 for the Mandela funeral was the result of extenuating circumstances.

Officials say she took a provincial government plane to Ottawa at a cost of more than $14,000 so she could catch a free flight overseas with a delegation that included Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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She took a commercial flight home at a cost of $10,000 rather than fly free with Harper, because she had to get back early for the swearing-in of a new cabinet.

Criticism has also been directed at Redford's communications director Stefan Baranski. Documents published online by the government last week show Baranski's contract provides up to $1,800 a month in taxpayer-funded travel cash in addition to his $13,800 monthly salary.

The Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald have reported overall travel spending has gone up under Redford to well over $700,000 in 2013 and is already more than $200,000 in 2014.

Redford has said the travel is needed to build business ties and contacts that will return investment dollars to Alberta many times over.

The spending comes at a time when the province is rolling up a projected $17-billion in debt to pay for new roads, schools and hospitals for a rapidly growing population.

Redford has also failed to balance the day-to-day spending side of the budget despite billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue.

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To try to balance the books, she has promised that her government is committed to "living within our means," so much so that the slogan appears at the bottom of every news release her government puts out.

Redford's government has negotiated multiyear contracts with teachers and doctors that include wage freezes or small wage increases.

In order to ensure a similar deal with the majority of government civil servants, her government passed a law in December revoking the right of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees to go to binding arbitration in its current round of contract talks.

If a deal with AUPE can't be reached by the end of March, the union will be forced to accept a four-year deal that includes a two-year wage freeze followed by two years of 1 per cent hikes.

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