August 19, 2014 1:49 pm

UPDATE: Premier Dave Hancock apologizes for misuse, but says government will keep its planes

WATCH ABOVE: The premier is going beyond a simple apology in light of the auditor general’s recent report on Alison Redford, breaking down the government’s plan to fix things. Tom Vernon reports.

EDMONTON — Premier Dave Hancock apologized to Albertans for betraying their trust by misusing government aircraft but says the fleet will remain.

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“There’s no question that Albertans feel let down by the government,” Hancock said, speaking publicly Tuesday for the first time since the auditor general’s damning report into former premier Alison Redford’s travel expenses.

“We know planes are to be used for legitimate government business” and “shouldn’t need to be policed or second-guessed by the minister” responsible, he said. But added that more oversight is required.

“The public needs to have assurance that they have honest, reliable people in charge. I’ve always believed that they do.”

Finance minister Doug Horner reiterated the need for a government fleet, to reach the “90 per cent of Alberta communities” not served by commercial airlines. But he said invited guests must now be pre-approved by the minister who oversees the planes, which for now, is him. Alternatives such as travelling by car or commercial airlines must be evaluated and the minister will “now have a lot more ability to say no,” he added.

There may be good reasons to take a government plane, though, even if it’s more expensive, Hancock said. “It’s a value equation” that must take into account scheduling challenges and other factors.

The department responsible for the fleet will provide a quarterly update about costs and communities served by flights.

Auditor General Merwan Saher looked into Redford’s use of government aircraft and found she used the fleet for both personal and partisan trips, and only paid back a portion of the costs.

Saher said the misuse of public assets was due in part to an “aura of power” surrounding Redford’s office, which didn’t always comply with travel, meal and hospitality expense policies.

Hancock referred to a flight from Edmonton to Grande Prairie for a PC party event, one of several the auditor general questioned. Hancock said he defended the flight in the Legislature based on information he had at the time, but now believes the flight should have been cancelled.

READ MORE: Which other ministers were on the partisan flights?

NDP Leader Brian Mason again called for a full public inquiry into government travel. He said the fleet needs to go, except perhaps for one small plane.

 

© Shaw Media, 2014

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