UPDATE: Lukaszuk apologized this morning.
“I apologize for incurring high data charges,” he tweeted. “It was a mistake. Here is the background on what happened.”
That background, posted on Lukaszuk’s website, is listed below this story.
Progressive Conservative leadership contender Thomas Lukaszuk stuck taxpayers with over $20,000 in international data roaming charges while on a personal trip to Poland and Israel in 2012, documents show.
The former deputy premier took a week off at the start of the legislative session in Oct. 2012 to travel to Poland and Israel as part of the “Compassion to Action” program which raises awareness about hatred, tolerance, and human rights.
Lukaszuk said he was invited by the Simon Weisenthal Centre to join an Auschwitz survivor in Poland on Oct. 19, then left for a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Israel on Oct. 25 before returning to Canada on Oct. 30.
He personally paid an estimated $7,000 to go but because of his position in cabinet, Lukaszuk said he exchanged a large amount of government and legal documents on his iPad while abroad, as well as Skype-called into cabinet committee meetings.
A wireless bill dated November 21, 2012 shows 2.29 gigabytes of data used by Lukaszuk on the trip was charged to the government at a cost of $20,243.91.
“When you travel as a minister, you pre-plan as much as you can. When something goes sideways in Alberta, all of a sudden you’re inundated with documents. We’re talking document packages are being sent to you by data transfers,” he explained.
“So when I came back, I dealt with Executive Council and I said ‘Guys, we’re not paying this bill. Negotiate it. Bring it down because this is ridiculous’ and they negotiated with the service provider but they couldn’t bring it down.”
Lukaszuk refused to consider paying it back because it’s “the unfortunate cost of doing business.” He signed off on the charge on December 19, 2012 and it was logged under “other expenses” in his office’s February 2013 expense report.
“The fact is, it was unavoidable,” he said. “Lots of documents were shipped then and that was in official capacity and I continued working. That was the biggest part, the amount of documents flying back and forth.”
Lukaszuk says he feels the trip was “pseudo-government related” and “frankly, if I wanted to, I probably could have legitimately claimed that trip to government because of the number of official visits and why they invited me there, but I didn’t because it was something that was driven by my personal interests more-so than an obligation.
The wireless charges were sent to the Edmonton Sun anonymously last week. The Sun discovered that a Calgary resident’s identity was fraudulently used to courier the documents. A formal complaint has been filed with the Calgary Police Service.
Lukaszuk says the wireless charges are internal government documents and could only have come from someone inside or supporting the campaign of his rival, former federal MP Jim Prentice.
“This is definite sabotage. That’s all that they can find on me. I also know they’re trying to revive the furniture story,” he said, referencing a furniture upgrade he ordered for his former office that cost taxpayers over $10,000 in 2013.
A spokesperson for the Prentice campaign confirmed that they did not leak the doc-u ment s and said Lukaszuk “will have to explain his own actions.”
A spokesperson for Ric McIver also said their campaign did not leak the documents.
In January 2014, it was reported that Energy Minister Diana McQueen was hit with a $14,577.37 charge for cellphone roaming while she was on a government trip throughout Europe in fall 2013. The government was appealing the charge.
PC members will choose Alberta’s next premier on September 6 with a potential run-off vote scheduled for September 20.
Statement on data roaming charges
Media reports are discussing my 2012 telephone expenses. Here are the facts.
I was travelling on personal business in October 2012
In October 2012, I went to Poland, Israel, and the West Bank as a guest of the Simon Weisenthal Centre’s ‘Compassion to Action’ program. It raises awareness about hatred, tolerance, human rights, and collaboration. The travel costs were not paid by government, and the trip was on private time. I made Facebook and Twitter posts before and during the trip, so my participation is a matter of public record. You can see the posts in my Facebook history.
I continued to do work while I was away
However, I was Deputy Premier, and there really isn’t “private time”. I was expecting to do some government work while I was away (reading and answering emails, reviewing briefings, and staying current with Alberta and Canadian news), so I took my equipment with me.
Work included handling a legal file, with lots of materials going back and forth
An urgent government legal matter arose that required my attention. There were a lot of long conversations, and proceedings with lawyers and the courts. The case itself is under a court-ordered publication ban, so it is against the law for me to provide details. A letter from the legal firm confirms that it was a government case. Suffice it to say that government faced an issue, it needed to be dealt with, and it was.
Significant fees were charged by the phone company
Telus levied fees of more than $20,000 for data and roaming charges. The expenses were an unwelcome surprise. Since then, I switched my telephone supplier, and I ensure that data plans are in place whether I am travelling for work or on personal time.
They were handled at the time
My staff and Executive Council staff fought with the telephone company to have the charges reduced. They were unsuccessful. The bill was begrudgingly paid, and publicly reported in February 2013 as part of my office expenses. I subsequently changed providers, and government has a better data plan.
And I apologize for incurring the expense
Absolutely I made a mistake, and for that I apologize. I did not check the data plan myself, and I did not confirm that my office had done so. The result was that accomplishing a task cost the government more than it should have. This was an expensive lesson.