Michelle Mungall is defending her travel companion expenses after topping a list released by the BC legislature last week.
The Nelson-Creston MLA billed for just over $7,800 on eight trips between April and December 2013 in which either her husband or a staff member accompanied her, the most of any of province’s 85 elected representatives.
MLAs are entitled to up to 12 such taxpayer-funded trips per year, and most take advantage of the perk.
“This is part of making the work more family friendly and part of the overall MLA compensation package,” Mungall told 103.5 The Bridge. “Being from a rural area, our expenses will inevitably be higher than urban MLAs. We incur larger expenses to do our job, going back and forth between our constituencies and Victoria.”
Eight of the ten highest spenders were from rural ridings, including Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson ($7,250 for eight trips) and Columbia River Revelstoke MLA Norm MacDonald ($5,360 for six trips), in second and third place respectively.
However, Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy was well down the list, having billed $1,486 for two trips. That was compared to $3,333 for five trips in 2012.
Mungall said the bulk of what she billed for related to staff attending professional training in Victoria and having to find alternate routes home after their flights were cancelled.
As an example of cost breakdowns, a six-day trip by a constituency assistant in October involved accommodation, mileage, meals, transit, car rental, airfare, fuel, and taxi fare for a total of $1,805.
A three-day trip the same month by Mungall’s husband cost $822 in airfare and meals, while a four-day trip the following month cost $508.
However, she said she has no problem with a review of spousal and staff travel by a legislature committee: “If there’s a review to look at how we can better save taxpayers money, I’m all for it.”
In all, BC’s MLAs spent over $125,000 on travel expenses for companions on 233 trips for the last nine months of last year.