EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Dave Hancock says the Progressive Conservative caucus will find a way to reunite after a leadership campaign marred by leaked documents and angry accusations.
“It is disappointing when you see people engaging in things which are not helpful to the discussion of public policy and not helpful to the healing process afterwards,” Hancock said Thursday. “(But) we will come together. We’ll heal. It’s a normal part of the process.”
Hancock’s days as premier are winding down.
Party members begin voting Friday for one of three candidates to become the next leader and premier.
The first round of balloting will be announced Saturday night. If none of the candidates — Jim Prentice, Ric McIver or Thomas Lukaszuk — wins a majority, the top two finishers move to a final run-off vote on Sept. 20.
The race began after Alison Redford quit as premier in March amid escalating revelations of reckless and lavish spending on travel and office perks for herself and her inner circle.
Hancock, a veteran Edmonton MLA and advanced education minister, was selected by the PC caucus to head the government during the leadership race. He said he was picked to right the ship and help the government remain focused through the turbulent period.
“That was what I was asked to do, to refocus on the things that matter and to clean up the things that needed to be cleaned up. For the most part I think we’ve accomplished that,” he said.
“I hope we’re ready to turn it over now to a new leader and a new premier who will be able to really focus on market access (for exports), on environmental sustainability, (and) on the things that really make a difference to the long-term prospects of this province and its people.”
The Tories continued to deal with the aftershocks from Redford’s scandals during Hancock’s tenure.
In August, Auditor General Merwan Saher delivered a scathing report accusing Redford and her staff of abusing their authority to fly her and her daughter around at taxpayer expense for party and personal trips. Reverberations from that report have been felt on the leadership campaign. All three candidates have promised to restore governmental integrity.
But in recent weeks Lukaszuk has been stung by brown envelope leaks of his own expenses.
One was a $20,000 cellphone bill when he was asked while on vacation in Poland in 2012 to resolve a family dispute relating to one of his cabinet colleagues. It was also revealed that he, too, flew his daughter on government aircraft, though he has since repaid those fares.
The collateral damage has hit others around the cabinet table: Finance Minister Doug Horner has been criticized for failing to monitor the rules on government airplanes and for flying his wife to events as well.
Human Services Minister Manmeet Bhullar, a high level organizer for Prentice, has denied anonymous published accusations he urged PC political opponents to expose Lukaszuk’s expenses.
The leadership campaign has seen flashes of vitriol.
Prentice, a former federal MP, has suggested McIver and Lukaszuk were derelict for sitting around the cabinet table but not stopping the worst of Redford’s excesses, including plans to build a swank penthouse atop a government building.
McIver and Lukaszuk in turn have accused Prentice of being another elitist member of the political old boys club, and say he is trying to buy the premiership by giving away party memberships to supporters rather than selling them for the normal $10 price.
McIver took that a step further Thursday, releasing a provincewide radio attack ad.
“(Prentice’s) campaign is buying votes to win the premier’s office. Maybe someone should tell him that public trust isn’t for sale,” states the ad.
Some groups, however, have criticized the candidates for dealing only elliptically with real issues.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said Thursday that the candidates gave vague answers to some survey questions submitted on behalf of entrepreneurs.
And the Canadian Cancer Society said Prentice and McIver failed to respond to questions about whether they would ban people under 18 from using indoor tanning beds — equipment linked to a rise in deadly melanoma cases.
The society also wants a commitment that Alberta’s new leader will quickly proclaim a law passed last December that would ban flavoured tobacco.
“We are very concerned,” policy analyst Evie Eshpeter said. “With new leadership comes new priorities. This could all change once a new premier is elected.
“We are hoping that the issues will come back to running this province.”
Also Thursday, Lukaszuk and McIver released their donor lists.
McIver’s team reported raising more than $417,000 while Lukaszuk collected over $300,000.
Both are dwarfed by Prentice, who recently announced $1.8 million in donations.