“I am optimistic that your review will assist in securing Albertans’ continued confidence in their government and trust in their elected officials.”—Premier Redford’s letter to the Auditor General requesting a review of her compliance with the Travel and Expense policy, Mar 4, 2014
Ms Redford’s optimism quickly turned to ashes. Not only did her request dump her onto the scrap heap of disgraced politicians, but there’s a good chance she’ll take the rest of the PC government with her.
A junket to Grande Prairie
On Thursday, Oct 25, 2012 Premier Redford and 8 MLAs—Donna Kennedy-Glans, Ken Hughes, Wayne Drysdale, Fred Horne, Cal Dallas, Christine Cusanelli, Wayne Cao and Everett McDonald—made a trip to Grande Prairie. Two ministers joined Ms Redford on the government plane flying to Grande Prairie; the others joined her on the flight back.
The flight manifest says the purpose of the trip was to meet with government officials. Health Minister Horne says the purpose of the trip was to “make an announcement” about the progress of the expansion of the Grande Prairie hospital. The announcement was made…at 4:20 in Edmonton while the plane was somewhere in the air between Calgary and Grande Prairie. The plane touched down at 4:32. The Progressive Conservative fundraiser dinner started at 5:20. There were no meetings with government officials and no media events in the 48 minutes between wheels down and forks up.*
When asked by the Opposition to explain themselves, Deputy Premier Hancock huffily replied that the trip was “clearly government business.” Finance Minister Horner blew his stack calling the Opposition’s questions “despicable”. Health Minister Horne bleated the government had “made an announcement” and Infrastructure Minister Drysdale flew into a rage, accusing Ms Smith of impugning his integrity and judgment.*
The Auditor General’s take
Then along came Merwan Saher, the Auditor General (and my hero) to set the government straight.
The Auditor General reminded everyone that the Travel & Expense policy requires the government (us) to pick up the tab for the government plane if the passengers are travelling on “government business”. Government business is defined as “activities intended to promote and achieve the goals and objectives of the government of Alberta.”
The Auditor General found no evidence of government business on the Grande Prairie junket. Attending a Progressive Conservative party fundraiser does not qualify. Quelle surprise!
This leaves the 8 MLAs who accompanied Ms Redford to the PC fundraiser in a quandary.
Eight MLAs react
Ms Donna Kennedy-Glans and Mr Ken Hughes apologised—Ms DK-G for “making assumptions about the integrity of the flight logistics” (whatever that means) and Mr Hughes for “believing the plane was in Grande Prairie on government business.”**
Notice, they’re both apologising for not knowing that the plane was on nongovernment business. This is bizarre. The plane doesn’t flip from government to nongovernment business; it’s ALWAYS on government business. The one thing both Ms DK-G and Mr Hughes knew was that they were not flying on government business.
On this the Auditor General is crystal clear. If a passenger is traveling on nongovernment business they should not be travelling on the government plane. That’s why Ms Redford could take the government plane on government business but her daughter could not accompany her.
Mr McDonald refuses to apologize. He says the Auditor General got the facts wrong and that he, Health Minister Horne and Infrastructure Minister Drysdale did announce the progress made on the Grande Prairie hospital. Excuse me but you don’t need to fly a government plane to Grande Prairie to issue a press release in Edmonton.
And let’s not forget that the Auditor General gave a draft copy of his report to Premier Hancock. Auditors do that so management (in this case the government) can correct any factual errors.
Premier Hancock did not correct the so-called “error” that Mr McDonald is using to excuse his behavior.
Ms Cusanelli and a spokesperson for Mr Dallas said they picked up the plane in Grande Prairie because they were hosting a briefing with Consular Corps in Calgary the next day. What this has to do with anything is beyond me. Ms Cusanelli also said the policy isn’t clear.
Mr Cao says taking the government plane was the wrong choice.
Mr Horne and Mr Drysdale were unavailable for comment. This is probably a good thing given their reaction to the Opposition Leader when questioned about the trip (see ranting and raving above).
Who is responsible?
The Auditor General places the responsibility squarely on Mr Horner. Mr Horner says he’s responsible for policies but disavows responsibility for Ms Redford’s actions because he is simply the “booking agent”.***
What nonsense. Next thing we know Mr Horner will deny responsibility for $17 billion in debt come 2016 because he’s just the “bank teller”.
It’s Mr Horner’s job to know the rules and enforce the rules. He chose not to do so because as he told the Opposition Leader, it is normal course for MLAs using government aircraft to bring their families with them to government functions and nongovernment functions. “We’ve been doing it for a long time, not just this Premier but Premiers before her as well.”****
Mr Horner was simply restating something former premier Klein said in 2005: “So if it happens some party business is mixed with ministerial business so be it. What’s the big deal?”
How about it’s a breach of trust for a start?
*Hansard Mar 11, 2014, p 164, Mar 12, 2014, p 201, 202 & Mar 13, 2014, p 239
**Calgary Herald, Aug 9, 2014, A4
***Calgary Herald, Aug 8, 2014, A3
****Hansard, Mar 5, 2014, p 53