Report slams Redford's travel expenses

Province: Auditor General says people unwilling to challenge former premier's expenses

By: Don Patterson

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Aug 13, 2014 10:43 am

Former premier Alison Redford tours High River after the 2013 flood. Alberta’s auditor general was harshly critical of Redford’s use of government planes while in office.
Former premier Alison Redford tours High River after the 2013 flood. Alberta’s auditor general was harshly critical of Redford’s use of government planes while in office.
Wheel file photo

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Former Alberta Premier Alison Redford misused government aircraft for partisan and personal use, all while an “aura of power” around the premier’s office left people unwilling to challenge Redford or her senior staff’s travel expenses, according to a report by the province’s auditor general.

Redford resigned her seat as Calgary-Elbow MLA and the RCMP were called in to investigate a day before Auditor General Merwan Saher released his report on Aug. 7.

However, Alberta’s opposition parties are calling for a public inquiry and the resignation of the provincial finance minister, who is responsible for overseeing the provincial government’s fleet of four planes.

Danielle Smith, Highwood MLA and Wildrose Party leader, said an inquiry is the only way to get to the root of the problem.

“The Premier’s office touches all departments,” she said. “If there really is an aura of power that causes people to feel trapped into breaking the rules and creating work arounds, Albertans absolutely need to know how deep this goes. There is just too much in Mr. Saher’s report to believe it’s all confined to one office.”

Saher’s report states Redford and her offices used public resources inappropriately and she used government aircraft for personal and partisan purposes.

The report noted several reasons for the problems, including poor oversight, lack of clear rules and a lack of personal responsibility for expenses. He said there was an unwillingness to challenge expenses by Redford and her political staff who felt “trapped.”

“How could this have happened?” Saher wrote. “The answer is the aura of power around the premier and her office and the perception that the influence of the office should not be questioned. We observed a tendency to work around or ignore the rules in order to fulfill requests coming from the premier’s office in ways that avoided leaving the premier with personal responsibility for decisions.”

The auditor general found three occasions where Redford used the plane to attend partisan, PC Party events. He also found the premier used government planes for personal reasons and that her daughter had traveled with the premier and without her on government flights.

The PC Party is paying $6,500 to cover the costs of flights taken for Redford to attend party events.

The auditor general confirmed the former premier’s office booked seats on government planes when Redford and her entourage were traveling and removed them at the last minute to limit the use of the plane to Redford and her staff. Redford and her former chief of staff stated they didn’t know about the practice, but the report states that, based on interviews conducted by the auditor general’s office, the idea came from the premier’s office.

Saher also looked at plans to develop a residential suite for the Premier on the top floor of the Edmonton Federal Building. According to the report, the department of Infrastructure viewed Redford as the “authorized decision maker” for the project.

Saher called for greater scrutiny of expenses and made six recommendations in his report, including oversight of the premier’s office’s expenses, clarifying the rules for the use of government planes, reporting the cost of using government aircraft

Alberta premier Dave Hancock said the government accepts the auditor general’s recommendations.

“Governments are entrusted to put the interests of the people they serve ahead of their own and to use public resources for public purposes only,” he said. “That trust has been broken. While we have measures in place to prevent the inappropriate use of public resources, the findings of this report make it clear that we can and must do better.”

The Highwood PC constituency association issued a statement regarding the issue saying it looks forward to new leadership in the party.

“With the details coming out, we will find a way to do things better, accept and implement the recommendations of the Auditor General and return our attention to the important matters related to the administration of this province. Despite the determination of many to paint all with the same brush, we believe there is still a majority of good people working hard to represent our party and we want a high standard of integrity, oversight and respect for taxpayers’ dollars.”

The association’s board stated good people are “disappointed” with the situation and “worn out with the negativity of being associated with conduct that does not represent them.”

Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier said the former premier and those working for her didn’t seem show any respect or responsibility for the public.

“In my opinion it’s obvious that the premier and her office seemed to think that they were above the law and that they could use that kind of authority to do what they wanted to do,” he said.

He said the RCMP investigation isn’t enough because the report points to problems in other areas and a public inquiry is necessary.

“It’s not just this alone, we have to look at the whole situation we’ve got here… this seems to be the tip of the iceberg,” said the Wildrose Party MLA.

Stier also said finance minister Doug Horner should resign because he failed in his responsibility to oversee the use of the government’s planes.


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