The decision to fly B.C. Premier Christy Clark around on private jets is appalling in light of the recent hike in bus pass prices for people with disabilities, the NDP argued Monday.

Opposition leader John Horgan hammered the provincial government in Question Period for spending half a million dollars on private flights for Clark and her staff since she became premier, a story uncovered by freelance journalist Bob Mackin.

“The premier chose, rather than using WestJet, to spend $500,000 on private jets,” Horgan said.

“Why is it OK for the premier and her entourage to get private flights wherever they want to go, and it’s not good enough to give a basic bus pass to the most vulnerable people in our community?”

Some of the flights were booked between Vancouver and Clark’s riding in Kelowna, despite commercial flights being available. Some were used so the premier could attend events and photo ops.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the B.C. government has a policy on when chartered flights can and can’t be used, and that sometimes there are no other options.

“It’s not just a matter of acquiring a single ticket,” de Jong said. “It is the premier, it is a security representative, a press secretary, and there is a small group that travels with the premier.”

Horgan said the flights are especially jarring given the news, delivered earlier this month in the budget, that bus passes for people with disabilities are going to start costing $52 a month. Passes used to be given out for an annual $45 administration fee, which will continue being charged in addition to the new monthly charge. 

B.C. has defended that hike, however, as it was paired with a monthly benefit increase of $77 – the first increase of its kind in nine years.

Horgan said the government missed an opportunity to give a meaningful boost in benefits to people with disabilities, and instead “gave with one hand and took away with the other.”

Michelle Stillwell, Minister of Social Development, said the change was intended to give people with disabilities more freedom to choose how they receive their benefits.

“We continue to refine policies to increase the independence of people with disabilities so they can attain their full potential,” Stillwell said, adding that the benefits hike is costing the government $170 million.

“What’s the choice? The choice is to stay home, or do I get a bus pass, or do I buy food, or do I keep the lights on?” Horgan said.

With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Bhinder Sajan