The Opposition Tories are accusing Deputy Premier George Webster of ‘scandalous abuse’ of taxpayers’ dollars for expensing a $40 in-room movie during a hotel stay in Texas.
© Guardian photo
MLA George Webster. File Photo
Webster travelled to Texas in 2011 for an agriculture conference, and stayed for three nights at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Centre.
During question period Thursday, Opposition MLA Colin LaVie tabled a detailed bill for this hotel stay, which was filed as an expense claim by the minister.
The bill shows a nightly room charge of $168 charge plus taxes and fees, but one of the days includes a charge of $38.77 for a movie.
“What movie did you watch in the room that cost $37.88?” LaVie said Thursday.
“Forty dollars can buy a family 16 loaves of bread, $40 can buy a family 20 litres of milk here at home. Deputy premier, why do you think Islanders should pay for your $40 in-room movie?”
A bewildered Webster replied, saying he does not remember watching a movie in his room, suggesting perhaps it was a mistake or that someone else may have ordered it.
“I don’t believe there was anyone else in my room, unless my staffer was in the room and turned the TV on and didn’t realize it was on, or turned the volume down or something,” Wesbter said.
“I’m not aware of it. I rarely watch movies even at home.”
But LaVie continued to question him on it, pushing Webster for details on what the movie was, why it cost so much and why he charged taxpayers for this personal expense.
“The movie must have had been some blockbuster movie, it had to be a real good movie,” LaVie said.
“We know that it was a long hard winter and Islanders have struggled through the winter to put food on their table…. what do you say to those folks who are struggling to get by who paid for your $40 in-room movie?”
Webster continually denied any knowledge of it.
“I will investigate that, and if it was that, if it was a movie or something – maybe the TV was running and I was sleeping, I don’t know, but I will investigate that.”
Politicians’ expenses are often scrutinized and have, in the past, led to some high profile controversies.
Former federal cabinet minister Bev Oda resigned from the Harper government in 2012 after she made headlines for lavish expenses billed to taxpayers, including a $16 glass of orange juice.
On Thursday, Opposition Leader Steven Myers pointed to statements made by Premier Robert Ghiz during the 2007 election campaign – before he became premier.
Ghiz told The Guardian at that time any Liberal cabinet minister caught misusing their government credit card would be fired.
The premier was not in the House Thursday, so Myers asked Webster directly whether this policy would still apply.
“As deputy premier, would those words still hold true today or is that another broken promise?” Myers asked.
Webster replied he believed all MLAs “should pay their own personal expenses as need be” but added if it turns out there was a movie charged to taxpayers, he would reimburse the expense.
“I will investigate that issue, and if that’s a charge to the room for a movie I will gladly reimburse that, but I need to investigate it first.”