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UPDATE #2 Plett replies: Senator Plett's air time

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The People's Network recently aired a story on Conservative senators who bought business class airfares, with public money, to fly themselves and their spouses to Ottawa as the Senate expense scandal was in full swing last fall.

CBC got the numbers from publicly disclosed travel expenses Oct. 17 to Dec. 31 posted on the senator's websites. Expense claims for former Liberal senators and independent senators are not posted.

CBC found Manitoba Conservative senator and former Conservative Party of Canada president Don Plett claimed the second-highest amount of money on travel during the height of the Senate scandal, the five-week period, Oct. 14 to Nov. 17 when the upper house debated the suspension of Senators Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau.

The CBC said Plett spent more than $12,000 on business flights between Winnipeg and Ottawa. The price of those ranged from $1,300 to as high of $3,000. Plett also flew his wife Betty to Ottawa three times at a total cost of about $6,000.

"I will be audited along with all my other colleagues. So I am not going to comment until after the audit is complete," Plett told CBC.

"I know that the audit will find that I have done nothing wrong intentionally," he added. "Am I going to have some mistakes? I've been here for 4½ years and it is a fairly complex system at times and certainly I will not comment on whether there have been some mistakes made, but I will not have intentionally done anything wrong."

For the entire period (Oct. 17-Dec.31) Plett spent a total of $22,110 on airfare for 14 flights, including seven with his wife.

What other Manitoba Tory senators spent:

Janis Johnson: a total of $6,696 for four flights.

JoAnne Buth: a total of $10,587 on seven flights.

Manitoba's only other senator is Liberal Maria Chaput. The province has two vacant Senate seats with the departures last year of senators Rod Zimmer and Terry Stratton.

What do these numbers really show?

You could say the numbers show Plett appears to have spent more time on Senate business than his two colleagues.

Or that he really likes airplanes and airports.

But mostly you could say he likes being with his wife.

Whatever you think about the Senate, just because you end up there doesn't mean your marriage has to end.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca 

 

UPDATE #2

 

Manitoba Senator Don Plett has demanded a retraction from CBC for its story.

What follows is the correspondence between Flett and CBC producer Timothy Sawa. Plett shared the correspondence with the Free Press. The most recent email is first. It has not been edited.

Sent Tue 2/18/2014 12:13 PM

Mr. Sawa,

Once again, I am demanding a full retraction of your story and an apology to my wife. I would like to believe that CBC reporters are professional enough and possess enough integrity that they can publicly admit when they have made a mistake -- certainly when it's at the expense of a person's reputation.

Your minor "correction" in your online story, which we know serves no purpose, demonstrates to me that you are aware you have made a mistake. Why not let the Canadian public in on the mistake? Surely, you believe the public deserves to have all of the facts.

We both know that a story about a Senator who primarily uses economy flight passes, occasionally upgrading to business class with his own personal rewards points, and occasionally flies his wife to Ottawa, expensing economy flights, is in fact no story at all. That should not get in the way of you doing the right thing.

If I do not have a full retraction of your story and an apology to my wife by the end of today, I will be taking this to the CBC Ombudsman. I suggest you act accordingly.

Thank you,

Senator Don Plett

Sent: Friday, February 14, 2014 03:46 PM

To: Plett, Donald

Subject: Re: "Tory Senators Expense Business Class Flights with Spouses"

Dear Sen. Plett,

 

Thank you for your email.

 I want to let you know that we are planning to make changes to the online story to clarify the following:

  - we will specify that your wife travelled on Latitude airline tickets, not business class tickets

  - we will specify that the prices we quote for your travel are for return airfare tickets

 I've briefed Jack Nagler about our conversations. He is our Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement for CBC News.

If you any further questions - you can direct them to him. I've copied him in this email.

 Sincerely,

Timothy Sawa

Producer | Current Affairs and Investigative Programming

CBC News

 

Sent: Friday, February 14, 2014 11:37 AM

Subject: RE: "Tory Senators Expense Business Class Flights with Spouses"

Mr. Sawa,

I will respond to your questions point-by-point, before again demanding a full retraction of your story.

1. With regards to prices quoted in my travel claim: You state, and I quote: "The cost of airline tickets between Winnipeg and Ottawa purchased by Plett ranged from $1,300 to as high as $3,000." For future reference, you should know that an "airline ticket" refers to a single flight. The prices you quoted include taxi fare and TWO tickets, or, a round-trip flight. While you extended me the courtesy of clarifying in your last email that you meant a round-trip flight, you chose to deliberately mislead Canadians by implying this was a single flight purchase. As I stated, the most expensive flight I had in the time period you reported was $1,900, which I explained was due to a last-minute ticket change. All of the other flights in that period were taken using flight passes, which, again, range from $610.20 - $945.81, and NOT "$1,300 - 3,000". Those costs are, without question, reasonable for a flight of that distance and are in line with all of my colleagues travelling the same distance. Once again, your numbers are blatantly incorrect.

I also thought you may find it interesting that I was responsible for bringing in the "flight pass" option into the Senate in an effort to cut the expense to taxpayers in half. A colleague from British Columbia and I were the first to use flight passes and in fact were using them well before the House of Commons.

2. With regards to the period you decided to report: The period currently reported on my website ranges from October 17, 2013 until December 31, 2013. Furthermore, all Senators' quarterly expense reports were available through Senate Finance prior to our reporting of expenses on the website, as well as the expenses for all Liberal senators. Had you wanted to do a report on the expenses of both Conservative and Liberal Senators, a little bit of work on your part would have allowed you to do that.

3. On the point of business class travel for spouses: Because you believe a flight cost is "in line" with a business class ticket, you decide to report that as fact? The fact is that I did NOT expense a business-class flight for my wife during the time you reported, and I do not believe I have ever expensed a business-class flight for her. The cost of a latitude economy ticket is completely out of my control.

You are correct when you say that it is within the Senate rules to fly your spouse business-class. However, as I have now said repeatedly, to reduce the expense to taxpayers, I have chosen to not fly my spouse business-class. It appears your issue here is with the Senate rules. How you can make this a story about me after my expenses demonstrate that I have gone out of my way to save taxpayer dollars is beyond me. Frankly, it is offensive and irresponsible.

You, sir, have defamed not only my good name, but also the name of my wife, which I will absolutely not tolerate. While I expect only a retraction from you on my part, I expect an apology from you to my wife. Had you retracted your story as I had asked, Evan Solomon would not have had the opportunity to continue to perpetuate this misinformation on Power & Politics. And, I know that John Ivison, Stockwell Day and Tim Powers would have also responded appropriately if they had the correct information.

I come from a community of 1500 people and will be spending the weekend there, at church and my grandson's hockey tournament. I will now be faced with questions from my community as to why I have misspent taxpayer dollars when I have always stood by the principle of fiscal responsibility and accountability.

I would like to thank Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen from the Winnipeg Free Press for exhibiting responsible journalism when reporting that my flights were completely in line with my colleagues travelling from the same region, and that a cost of a flight to Winnipeg is the same for me as it is for my colleagues. They were also able to understand that the more you travel to Ottawa for work, the more flights you are going to have, and consequently the higher your total expenses will be.

Excerpt from this morning's Winnipeg Free Press article:

For entire period (Oct. 17-Dec.31) Plett spent a total of $22,110 on airfare for 14 flights, including seven with his wife.
What other Manitoba Tory senators spent:
Janis Johnson: a total of $6,696 for four flights.
JoAnne Buth: a total of $10,587 on seven flights.
Manitoba's only other senator is Liberal Maria Chaput. The province has two vacant Senate seats with the departures last year of senators Rod Zimmer and Terry Stratton.
What do these numbers really show?
You could also say the numbers show Plett appears to have spent more time on Senate business than his two colleagues.
Or that he really likes airplanes and airports.
But mostly you could say he likes being with his wife.
Whatever you think about the Senate, just because you end up there doesn't mean your marriage has to end.


I will repeat once again, I demand a complete and immediate retraction of the story from you, as well as from Susan Bonner on The National and Evan Solomon on Power and Politics.


Senator Don Plett

 

From: Timothy Sawa 

Sent: Thursday, February 13, 2014 5:59 PM

Dear Sen. Plett,


Thank you for your letter.

There are a couple of points I would like to clarify:

1) The prices we quote in our story are the same as the prices that are quoted in your Travel Disclosure Report that was posted online. Your return airfare prices range from $1,307.30 to $3,030.69. I've attached a copy of your report, so you can see for yourself.

2) I am not aware of any travel reports we could review from other months. We did review the month that was made public on your website at the time of our review. Again - you'll see that from the attached Travel Disclosure Report.

3) On the point of business class travel for your spouse, the prices quoted in the Travel Disclosure Report for your spouse are in line with the cost of business class tickets. It's also within the rules of senate travel for spouses to travel in business class. Are you saying that your spouse never travelled on a business class ticket on the dates included in the Travel Disclosure Report?

Thanks,

Timothy

On Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 2:26 PM, Plett, Donald wrote:

Mr. Sawa,

I demand that you retract your story immediately, as the information you provided is deliberately misleading.

I use flight passes to travel from home to Ottawa because it cuts the cost to taxpayers essentially in half.

These passes range from $610.20 - $945.81, and not "$1,300 to as high as $3,000". There was one instance in the period you reported where I had to book a flight not using a pass because I had to change a flight last minute and was therefore not able to redeem a flight pass.

I did not expense a business class flight for my wife to travel to Ottawa with me. It is against Senate rules for spouses to fly using flight passes, otherwise I would obviously use them for her as well.

Furthermore, all Senators, just like all Members of Parliament are permitted to travel with their spouses when they are coming to Ottawa for parliamentary business.

It is interesting that in the entire fiscal year you chose the four-week period where my wife travelled with me the most frequently, where in reality, had you done your research for the entire fiscal year, as I had suggested, you would find that she flies with me roughly a third to half of the time.

Senator Don Plett



In response to:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tory-senators-expense-business-class-flights-with-spouses-1.2534725

 

 

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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