National News

Calls for public inquiry into Redford's expenses

By Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

CALGARY - Calls grew louder Friday for a full public inquiry into former Alberta premier Alison Redford's expenses with the Opposition Wildrose party adding its voice.

Leader Danielle Smith said an RCMP review of the auditor general's report released Thursday is not enough.

Merwan Saher concluded Redford and her office used public resources, including government aircraft, inappropriately and for personal and partisan purposes. He blamed an "aura of power" around Redford and her office and the perception that their influence should not be questioned.

"That is something that requires a full public inquiry into all of the matters that the auditor general looked at for the premier's office — the misuse of government airplanes, whether or not expense accounts are being abused and, of course, the hidden travel expenses," Smith said.

"If we are going to get to the bottom of how this aura of power emanating from the premier's office causes multiple staff members in multiple different department to ignore the rules, to find work-arounds and to be terrified of standing up when they see wrongdoing, we need to know how many departments this is implicating."

The provincial NDP and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation have already called for a public inquiry. The government has sent Saher's report to police and the justice minister says he has arranged for prosecutors from Ontario to help RCMP decide whether any charges are warranted.

Smith said an inquiry needs to be done before the next provincial election slated for 2016. She asked the three candidates running to replace Redford as Progressive Conservative leader and premier to commit to calling one.

NDP critic Deron Bilous echoed that call.

"All three PC candidates have publicly committed to openness, transparency and respect for public dollars. Now it's time for them to put their money where their mouths are," Bilous said.

"The only way we will get to the bottom of this issue and find out who was involved is if we allow an independent body to go through the information and come to an impartial conclusion."

Redford resigned from the top job in March as a caucus revolt brewed over her leadership style and lavish spending. A vote for a new party leader is scheduled for Sept. 6.

On Wednesday, before the release of Saher's report, she resigned her seat as a Calgary backbencher and in a letter acknowledged mistakes were made during her time in office. She said she would not be commenting further.

Len Webber, a member of the legislature from Calgary, quit the Alberta PC caucus last spring just prior to Redford resigning as premier. At the time, he called her a "bully" and "not a nice lady."

Webber, who is now seeking a federal Conservative nomination, hasn't changed his view and is feeling some vindication.

"I'm glad I spoke up," he said Friday. "It's nice that justice has been served to this point and I guess we'll see now if the RCMP will charge her with anything.

"She put all this upon herself so there isn't a lot of sympathy on my part. She dug her own grave and I'm just glad she's no longer in."

Saher outlined various misdeeds in his report, including a practice of "block booking" government aircraft to give the appearance that planes were full "so that other passengers could not ride on the same flight" with the premier and her staff.

Saher said Redford and her former chief of staff denied any knowledge of the practice, but that it's clear the idea came from her office.

Redford also used government planes to attend Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta functions, the auditor said, sometimes scheduling government-related activities for the same times.

On two occasions, she used the planes for trips that Saher found were more personal than business-related — a family funeral in Vancouver and a weekend in Jasper. Her daughter travelled on both occasions, as well as on 48 other flights, a few times with friends and a couple of times without her mother. Saher called the flights for her daughter a "personal benefit."

Saher also delved into the premier's trade mission to India and Switzerland earlier this year that the government said cost $131,000. Adding other fees, such as advance planning, security and travel for other staff, Saher found the trip actually cost $450,000.

He further found that Redford was involved in a now-cancelled plan to add a premier's suite to a government building under renovation near the legislature, a residence dubbed in the media as "sky palace" when it was revealed earlier this year.

The RCMP acknowledged receipt of a copy of the auditor general's report, but said there's no guarantee a full investigation will occur.

"Based on a review of the information provided, the RCMP may or may not initiate an investigation," said RCMP Sgt. Josee Valiquette.

"If it's determined an investigation is not warranted or there is insufficient evidence to support charges, the RCMP will advise the complainant," she said.

"In the event an investigation results in the laying of criminal charges, the RCMP would confirm the investigation, the nature of the charges laid and the identity of the people involved."

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