Alberta PC government has faced years of criticism for its aircraft fleet
Watch above: The dust over the scathing report on former premier Alison Redford’s abuse of government planes has not yet settled. Once again there are calls to ground the government fleet to force the premier and ministers to fly commercial. Kendra Slugoski reports.
EDMONTON – This isn’t the first time the Alberta Tories have come under fire for their misuse of government aircraft.
Similar criticisms were leveled at the ruling party as far back as 1991.
“The presence of a fleet of aircraft paid for by taxpayers is fraught with the potential for abuse of public money,” the late Calgary Liberal MLA Sheldon Chumir said in the legislature in April 1991, according to the Edmonton Journal. He demanded to see flight logs from the previous three years.
“The whole concept of control of the public purse is public scrutiny. That’s our goal here: to ensure that there is the maximum degree of public scrutiny.”
In May 2004, then-premier Ralph Klein was criticized by the Liberals for a trip he had taken to Nova Scotia. A government plane dropped him off at an exclusive golf resort before he went to the premiers’ conference in Halifax. Klein maintained the pit stop was for networking, but admitted it was also partly for a vacation.
When pressed further about the trip in front of the public accounts committee, Klein fired back.
Klein: “Is she calling me a liar?”
“She doesn’t believe me? You don’t believe me? You don’t believe me? You don’t believe me?” Klein questioned.
Also in 2004, the Liberals released documents that showed the premier and his ministers used government aircraft hundreds of times per year, at a cost of $4 million that year alone. While many of the trips were short hops between Edmonton and Calgary, Klein’s use of the aircraft was dubbed “Air Ralph.”
“You can call it anything you want. I’m not going to stop using it,” Klein said at the time. “I’m not going to subject myself to two or three hours out of my day to get a commercial aircraft at the International Airport.”
Klein also said the government planes allowed him to fly to smaller Alberta communities not served by commercial airlines.
In March 2005, the Klein government’s use of aircraft once again came under scrutiny when one of the government’s four planes arrived in Edmonton carrying the lieutenant governor. According to the Liberals, it was too opulent a mode of travel, so the opposition party arrived at the government hangar in a four-door car.
“To me, this is unnecessary limousine service. And it’s not just premier Klein it’s a number of MLAs’ wives,” said Liberal MLA Harry Chase.
The Liberals suggested the Tories fly commercial, charter a plane or even take a bus. The party said the fleet was a waste of money, but the government maintained the cost came along with effective government.
“There’s a huge part of the province that is not Edmonton and Calgary and we do have to service that, we have to get out and see what is happening out there,” said Lyle Oberg, then minister of infrastructure and transportation.
However, he wanted to make it clear the planes were only for official government business.
“If there is potential abuse you have to make sure that it doesn’t occur. I have to keep reminding people every once in a while what the planes have got to be used for.”
Jump ahead nine years and the government fleet is being questioned again.
In his report released Thursday, Auditor General Merwan Saher said the government understated the cost of its fleet and disregarded its own 2012 analysis that concluded it could have saved $3.9 million that year by instead using commercial planes and paying mileage for driving
University of Alberta political scientist Jim Lightbody says “any argument for a fleet to service the ministry in Alberta in this day and time is very foolish.”
“You can fly to Red Deer for gosh’s sakes. You don’t need an air force now,” Lightbody said. “It’s part of the Alberta exclusivity, we’re just not that exclusive any longer.”
“If the fingers have been dipping into the candy jar for over 30 years, then it’s time to remove the candy jar.”
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