Tory leadership candidate says $20K cell charges due to minister in distress

Alberta Tory leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk says the reason he rang up more than $20,000 in international data roaming charges on one trip was because a cabinet minister called him in distress.

EDMONTON — Alberta Tory leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk says the reason he rang up more than $20,000 in international data roaming charges on one trip was because a cabinet minister called him in distress.

Lukaszuk says the cabinet minister called him while on a personal trip to Poland and Israel in October 2012.

He says the cabinet minister told him violence was involved and police were on the way, so he stayed on the line with the person until officers came.

Then, the next day, Lukaszuk — who was deputy premier at the time — contacted the premier’s office. After documents were transmitted and a video conference was held, it was determined it was a personal matter involving the cabinet minister’s sibling, and not work-related.

He says that was the end of it, and adds he was just doing his job.

He said that once the charges were discovered, his staff and executive council staff fought with the service provider to have them reduced.

“I was 15,000 kilometres away, if not more, and all I had was a frantic cabinet minister at the other end of the phone,” he said Wednesday night.

“I imagine most Albertans would have responded the same way. If you are on a vacation, as a senior employer because that is sort of the role you have in cabinet, and one of your cabinet members calls you in distress, that’s what you have to do, that’s what you do.

“There’s no protocol, there is no manual for that, but I think this is the human thing to do.”

Lukaszuk said he can’t say who the cabinet minister is or what the personal matter was about because the matter is under a court-ordered publication ban.

He said this has only become an issue because of the leadership race.

“I’m being told by leaders of the Opposition parties that my cell bill was shopped around to them for months already, ever since I entered the leadership race…Look at how this was released. Police are investigating, police were in the legislature (Wednesday) with a court order seizing documents.”

The cellphone bill was leaked to the Edmonton Sun last week.

On Monday, Lukaszuk apologized for the phone charges, saying it was “an urgent government legal matter” that required his attention.

Tory members will vote for a new leader on Sept. 6.

The other contenders are Jim Prentice and Ric McIver.

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