EDMONTON — Alberta Tory leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk apologized Monday for ringing up more than $20,000 in international data roaming charges on one trip.
But he also questioned why the two-year-old information was leaked to the Edmonton Sun newspaper less than two weeks before Progressive Conservative party members vote for a new leader and premier.
“I have nothing to hide. This bill was not hidden,” Lukaszuk told reporters after a speech to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce. “It was in a public venue. Anybody could have accessed it.
“The fact that somebody purposely highlighted it at this point in time obviously is a reputational issue.”
Lukaszuk also issued a statement that said he “absolutely” made a mistake “and for that I apologize.”
He said he was on a personal trip to Poland and Israel in October 2012 as a guest of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s “compassion to action” program. It raises awareness about hatred, tolerance, human rights and collaboration.
He was deputy premier at the time and a government legal case needed his attention, he said.
“There were a lot of long conversations and proceedings with lawyers and the courts,” Lukaszuk said in the statement. “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.”
He said that once the charges were discovered, his staff and executive council staff fought with the service provider to have them reduced.
But the company wouldn’t budge, he added, so the bill was grudgingly paid.
“There was no choice. An assignment was given to me. ‘You will be dealing with this issue’ — and I did,” Lukaszuk said after his speech.
“Work was done for Albertans. Unfortunately the communication charges are … despicable. They’re simply unacceptable.”
Lukaszuk said he did not check the data plan before his trip and did not check to see if his office had done so.
It was an “expensive lesson” and he subsequently changed providers, he said.
“The result was that accomplishing the task cost the government more than it should have.”
The New Democrats suggested it’s just more of the same from the Conservatives. Critic Deron Bilous said Lukaszuk is not immune to the sense of entitlement that led to former premier Alison Redford’s ouster.
“This is a person who says he’s different, and new, and going to bring accountability to government. Well, actions speak louder than words,” Bilous said.
Lukaszuk indicated his situation can’t really be compared to Redford’s flights on government aircraft, which the auditor general said were sometimes for personal and partisan use.
“That’s a lot of money to me and I accept the fact that Albertans find it troublesome. So do I, and I’m sorry for that. But I did not receive any gain out of this.
“This wasn’t something I did and benefited from in any way. It was the cost of doing work over there.”
A simple phone call to check the fees before Lukaszuk left would have avoided the significant roaming costs, Bilous suggested.