EDMONTON – Alberta’s top infrastructure bureaucrat said Thursday that no actual construction work was ever done on a luxury penthouse suite ordered by former premier Alison Redford.
Marcia Nelson told an Alberta legislature committee that some wiring and other floorwork was done, but the space was seamlessly redesigned to become a meeting room after the penthouse was cancelled in January.
“Electrical work was being done, plumbing work was being done, some access work was done for the elevator,” Nelson told the all-party public accounts committee. “We weren’t at a stage with that where any construction was needed to be torn out or remediated.”
“There were no (extra) funds that were spent.”
Nelson said plans for the proposed penthouse, which has been dubbed the “Sky Palace” by critics, began in July 2012 — about two months after Redford won a majority government in the provincial election — and continued until then-infrastructure minister Ric McIver cancelled them in January.
McIver has since left that post to become a candidate for in the Progressive Conservative leadership race. He has said he cancelled the job because he didn’t think it was a proper use of taxpayer dollars.
The project’s cancellation has led to confusion and finger pointing.
Wayne Drysdale was the infrastructure minister during much of the penthouse suite planning and has returned to the post as a replacement for McIver.
Drysdale has said he believed he cancelled the penthouse suite in December 2012.
Wildrose legislature member Drew Barnes asked Nelson to clear up the confusion.
“Was minister Drysdale’s message not listened to (in 2012)?” asked Barnes.
“I can’t talk about what message minister Drysdale provided or didn’t provide,” Nelson replied.
“All I can say is that the department was under the direction from probably July of 2012 until January of 2014 to build the premier’s suite to support a residential occupancy.”
Nelson also confirmed the redesign was ordered at the request of Redford’s office.
Redford resigned March 23 ahead of a reported caucus and party revolt over exorbitant spending on herself and her inner circle. Documents show Redford used government planes to fly herself, family and friends to weekend getaways and vacations and to take herself to PC party events.
After she left, the government released documents revealing the plans to build the penthouse “premier’s den” on the roof of the Federal Building, a block north of the legislature.
There would be bedrooms for Redford and her pre-teen daughter, Sarah, a shared bathroom, a powder room, a walk-in closet, a butler’s pantry and areas for dining, studying and lounging.
There would be grooming and changing areas, a fireplace and room-by-room temperature controls.
Design and engineering consultations alone cost $173,000, according to government documents tabled earlier this month by McIver.
The Federal Building is a historic structure under renovation to eventually house offices for all members of the legislature and government officials.
MLA Deron Bilous attended the meeting for the NDP. He said a lot of questions remain.
“What struck me is how political the answers were,” said Bilous in an interview.
“I found it interesting that the Ministry of Infrastructure (answer) was similar to the PC party (one), laying blame on the former premier and her office.
“It might have been their initiative, but the minister and the Department of Infrastructure obviously signed off on it. They were obviously aware that this project got approved in the first place, which raises flags.”
Redford remains the MLA for Calgary-Elbow, but has refused to discuss the penthouse.
Her staff have all left the Alberta government, taking with them $1.3 million in severance.