Watch above: Alberta’s opposition politicians are calling for a criminal investigation into former Premier Alison Redford and how she used government aircraft. Vassy Kapelos reports.
UPDATED AT 7:33 P.M. MT: Redford has released a statement in regards to the Auditor General’s report.
Alberta’s official Opposition, the Wildrose Party, called Tuesday for the RCMP to investigate what it calls a “flagrant abuse of government aircraft” by former premier Alison Redford.
“Frankly these allegations and details are shocking,” said Wildrose Finance Critic Rob Anderson.
“This government has set the ethical bar very low in this province already…but the Auditor General’s findings have sent it even lower.”
Sources tell Global News Alberta Minister of Justice Jonathan Denis has asked that all relevant documents be forwarded to the RCMP so that they can conduct an investigation independent of political interference, if they feel an investigation is warranted.
Redford’s staff booked seats for “false passengers” on government aircraft in order to limit flight access to the former premier, a report from Alberta’s auditor general says.
The report was leaked to CBC and Global News has confirmed the practice took place on government flights.
In March, Auditor General Merwan Saher agreed to look into the use of government aircraft after being asked by Redford herself. A spokesperson from the auditor general’s office says they can’t comment on a leaked document. The office plans to publicly release the report in August.
The Wildrose Party said the allegations amount to fraud.
“Falsifying airplane passenger lists, multiple trips for personal use, ignoring cheaper commercial flight options, and forcing others to take expensive commercial options when they could have flown on the government plane, booking staff on other flights so the premier could have an empty plane to herself,” Anderson listed.
“Taken together, these findings appear to warrant a criminal investigation into what is termed under the Criminal Code as a breach of trust.”
An RCMP spokesman said he has no immediate knowledge of an investigation into allegations concerning Redford, adding the provincial government would have to ask for one.
Premier Dave Hancock was not available for comment on Tuesday, but the acting director of communications for the Premier’s Office said he wouldn’t be able to comment until he sees the full Auditor General report himself.
“He’s concerned about the information and he does want to have that information in his hands as soon as possible,” said Kathleen Range. “He can’t make a comment until he has seen the report.”
“He is encouraging the Auditor General to fast track the review and to get the report out there as soon as possible so we can have a full response,” she added.
Range said she wasn’t aware the minister of justice has asked that all relevant documents be forwarded to the RCMP to determine if an investigation is warranted.
“I haven’t heard from the minister of justice.
According to criminal defence lawyer Mike Johnston, proving fraud took place could be difficult in this case.
“If there’s a knowledge component to this, it’s very difficult to prove what anyone knows at any one point in time.”
Johnston has not seen the Auditor General’s report and notes that none of the allegations have been proven.
Speaking generally, he explained an investigation like this would have to determine who made the travel decisions and at whose direction.
“Is she the one even making her own arrangements? And are there directions or instructions left for whoever makes those arrangements?”
“If the premier had made arrangements for her daughter and her to take a flight somewhere and she knew ahead of time that it was just going to be her and her daughter and representations were made by herself – or somebody acting on her instructions – to suggest that there would be more passengers on board that plane than everyone knew would be on that plane, then that’s the deceit or the falsehood that is one of the requirements that would have to be proven.
Watch above: Wildrose Finance Critic Rob Anderson speaks on leaked document regarding Redford’s aircraft use
The Wildrose is calling on Premier Dave Hancock to “call on the RCMP as we are doing to investigate this situation.”
“We now know what happens in this country when politicians who are supposed to represent the best interest of taxpayers get caught abusing their privileges,” said Anderson. “We’ve seen it at the federal level, of course, with Senator Duffy.”
He urged the three PC leadership candidates should commit to doing the same if Hancock does not.
“The PCs will undoubtedly try to pin this all on Ms. Redford and her departed staff as if they had absolutely nothing to do with it.
“There is simply no way that these actions could have been taken without other senior government staff and cabinet ministers knowing full well about it.”
Anderson suggested that both Hancock and Finance Minister Doug Horner be questioned as part of the investigation.
PC leadership candidates issue statements:
However, Thomas Lukaszuk, a former minister who gave up that position to run in the PC leadership race, has issued a statement on the situation. He said, if he becomes premier, he would recommend that Redford be removed as MLA.
“Today, through a leak from the Auditor General’s Office, we have learned about yet another alleged expense and travel impropriety by the previous Premier. Like me, Albertans are frustrated with the display of apparent disregard for taxpayers’ money and for the dignity of the Premier’s Office. Like me, Albertans must be wondering what more is there to be seen.
“Albertans should not have to wonder what more is there to be seen. Albertans have the right to know. As such, if chosen premier, I will immediately undertake to do the following:
1. Recommend to our Caucus that the MLA for Calgary Elbow be removed from the PC Caucus, as the conduct displayed by that member is not reflective of the PC party’s and Caucus’ code of conduct and values.
2. I will request that a independent legal expert (retired Judge) review all expenses and travel arrangements of the above MLA and determine if any laws were broken.
If any laws were indeed broken, the MLA will be treated like any Albertan and that information will be dealt with by the Justice system.”
In a statement, fellow PC leadership candidate Ric McIver said:
“I have said from the start of this campaign that politics is not about enriching oneself. Politics is about getting things done for ordinary Albertans. If I’m leader and Premier, this is the tone I will set from the top.
“One thing that is clear to me and easy to talk about is this: personal benefit should be paid for personally. Full stop.
“The reported abuse of government aircraft by the former Premier’s Office, if true, is completely unacceptable. I am outraged and Albertans should be as well. The findings by Alberta’s Auditor General of a pattern of false passengers on government aircraft is a matter of grave concern that should be sent to the proper authorities for further investigation. Any person or persons found responsible for falsifying documents should be identified and held to account. That is what Albertans deserve.
“I’m always stressing the need for value to the taxpayer. It’s essential that we as government respect the taxpayer dollar. As leader and Premier, I will have that expectation of every member of government, but especially of my own staff.
“The best indicator of future performance is past performance, which is why I invite Albertans to go online and see my expenses.”
Jim Prentice, the third PC leadership candidate, said that if public officials fail to address “blatant abuse of taxpayer dollars”, the RCMP should be asked to investigate.
“Today’s revelations of inappropriate travel expenses from the former Premier are unacceptable. Albertans I’ve spoken with over the course of my campaign are reacting the same way I am.
“It angers me – and it angers them – to hear that this kind of behaviour was conducted by someone in public office.
“I was not part of the previous government and like other taxpaying Albertans I have watched with dismay and disappointment as the bond of trust between the people of Alberta and their government has eroded. That bond must be repaired.
“Albertans do not need excuses from those who were at the table when these decisions were made, they need new leadership and a government that will hold themselves to the highest ethical standard. I have been clear over the course of my campaign that under my leadership we will restore public trust and improve accountability by putting strong rules in place, and enforcing them with discipline.
“There is no room in government for the blatant abuse of taxpayer dollars, and if public officials fail to observe this the RCMP should be called to investigate and these abuses must be met with the full force of the law.”