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Former Edmonton health boss says she billed taxpayers $135K in expenses

EDMONTON - The former boss of what was Edmonton's health region publicly released her version of her expenses Friday, saying they prove she didn't personally benefit.

Sheila Weatherill emailed out the figures ahead of an anticipated freedom-of-information release of hundreds of receipts and bills related to her spending during her tenure as Capital Health's CEO between 2005 and 2008.

Weatherill, with the help of an accounting firm, said she figures taxpayers were ultimately billed $135,000.

"I am proud of my tenure as CEO at Capital Health, and the staff and physicians I was privileged to work with," she said in an open letter.

"None of these expenses were of personal benefit to me."

Weatherill was out of a job in 2008 after all the health regions were collapsed into the current Alberta Health Services (AHS) superboard. She later joined AHS as a board member.

Weatherill could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.

In her letter she said her spending included $58,000 for hosting and recruiting. Some of that went to tickets for art performances or to NHL Edmonton Oilers hockey games.

Weatherill said she would sometimes give the tickets to "potential recruits, including physicians, to visitors and others."

There was also more than $44,000 for travel and almost $28,000 for building relationships with stakeholders, including fundraising for the Mazankowski Heart Institute.

She said she has repaid $220 to cover the cost, plus inflation, for a $200 ticket she charged to taxpayers to attend a federal Conservative fundraising dinner.

She said total expenses incurred were $147,000, but some of that was repaid by other groups to cover the costs for her to come and give speeches and advice to them, bringing the actual bottom line to $135,320.

Weatherill has come under fire in recent years over revelations that she signed off on lavish and questionable expenses for other executives who worked for her at Capital Health.

In April 2013, she repaid the province $7,800 after it was revealed she had taxpayers cover the cost for the region's chief operating officer, Michele Lahey, to get cancer treatment at the Mayo Clinic in the United States in 2007.

It was revealed that not only did taxpayers cover off the medical tests, they also paid for Lahey's two-night hotel stay along with expensive meals, Perrier water, an in-room movie, key lime pie, creme brulee and designer coffees.

At the time, Premier Alison Redford and Health Minister Fred Horne denounced the expenses as a flagrant abuse of taxpayer dollars.

Redford herself stepped down as premier last month ahead of a caucus revolt over scandals including lavish trips and perks for herself and her inner circle.

Weatherill quit the AHS board in August 2012 shortly after its chief financial officer Allaudin Merali tendered his resignation over an expenses scandal.

An audit found that Merali, while the chief financial officer for Weatherill at Capital Health, had racked up almost $370,000 in questionable expenses. There were pricey dinners and parties, bills to taxpayers to fix and upgrade his Mercedes Benz and money to hire a butler.

Weatherill had signed off on Merali's expenses.

Receipts released at the time by the Wildrose party showed that Lahey helped Merali with hosting costs during that time period. There were thousands of dollars from 2005-06 for expensive meals, wines, exotic cheeses, hotel stays, gift baskets and charitable donations tied to her work.

AHS is a separate arm of government charged with delivering day-to-day health care. It still ultimately reports to Horne.

In January 2013, Weatherill testified at a provincial inquiry into queue-jumping and favouritism in health care. She told the inquiry that as the head of Capital Health she gave a heads-up to staff on incoming VIP patients, but said that didn't mean she expected those patients to get favourable treatment.

Earlier witnesses at the inquiry testified that the health region under Weatherill had a culture of VIP care and front-line staff were told to watch over prominent patients.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Weatherill was a former head of Alberta Health Services.

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