It's not as lavish as a Member of Parliament's expense account. But a southern Alberta cabinet minister rang up more than $100,000 in expenses last year - on top of $171,000-plus in salary, fees and benefits.
Evan Berger, minister of agriculture in the last government, is listed as southern Alberta's biggest spender in a report tabled this week in the legislature. His travel, living and "subsistence allowance" expense claims of $106,725 include better than $62,000 to cover vehicle mileage, taxis, air fare, vehicle rental, parking and meals.
That pales in comparison to Lethbridge MP Jim Hillyer, recently reported as the nation's fourth biggest spender among back-bench federal politicians. Hillyer claimed $238,118 in travel costs for 2011-12, plus $178,737 for his employees' salaries and service contracts, $20,783 for office lease and expenses, and $27,417 for repairs and maintenance costs.
Berger, defeated during the provincial election this spring, remains on the public payroll. After losing his seat to Wildrose challenger Pat Stier, Berger was appointed to a government job in Lethbridge.
Second-highest in southwestern Alberta was Greg Weadick, MLA for Lethbridge West. As a cabinet minister in the last government, he received salary, fees and benefits totalling $196,329. Weadick's reimbursable travel and living allowance claims totalled $96,345 - not counting MLA office and staff expenses, which are not listed in the provincial report.
Lethbridge East MLA Bridget Pastoor, by contrast, received $140,180 for indemnity, salary and fees along with $67,161 in reimbursable living and travel claims. The annual "selected payments" document notes that she left the Alberta Liberals to become a Conservative in November 2011 but was returned to office.
Taber-Warner-Cardston MLA Bryce Jacobs, a Conservative who'd earlier won re-election after one term out of office, took home more than that. His salary and benefits - including extra pay for committee meetings attended - totalled $153,113. Jacobs' travel and living allowance claims added up to $76,870.
Jacobs failed to win the Conservative nomination for this spring's election, and the Conservative candidate fell under the Wildrose sweep across parts of rural Alberta.
In Little Bow, longtime MLA Barry McFarland retired from politics last spring and that riding was also picked up by a Wildrose candidate. By then, he'd run up travel expenses of $56,399 (plus an Edmonton living allowance of $34,965) as he drove to meet constituents up and down the elongated riding - which stretches from Lethbridge city limits to within a few minutes of Calgary.
McFarland's salary and benefits, including attendance at 10 different committees, totalled $154,864.
In comparison, another rural MLA with still more committee work received not much more. Ed Stelmach, after serving as premier until Oct. 7 last year, earned an annual salary of $170,713 over the fiscal year. His travel and living allowance claims were a modest $37,503.