Thursday, August 07, 2014

Ghost Air grounded!

'Aura of power' around Redford fuelled abuse of aircraft

By Karen Kklieiss
Thursday, August 7, 2014
An explosive auditor general's report released Tuesday excoriates Alison Redford for abusing Alberta's taxpayer-funded fleet of planes. (Photograph by: Darren Calabrese/National Post)

EDMONTON - An explosive auditor general’s report released Tuesday excoriates former Premier Alison Redford for abusing Alberta’s taxpayer-funded fleet of planes.

In a scathing 44-page report released Thursday, Auditor General Merwan Saher concludes unequivocally the premier’s office is responsible for the abuses.

“Premier Redford and her office used public resources inappropriately,” Saher said. “They consistently failed to demonstrate in the documents we examined that their travel expenses were necessary and a reasonable and appropriate use of public resources.

“Premier Redford used public assets (aircraft) for personal and partisan purposes. And Premier Redford was involved in a plan to convert public space in a public building into personal living space.”

The report says Redford used public planes for party business at least three times and for personal purposes as well, including flying her daughter alone on the plane.

He said her trip to India cost $450,000, well above the published cost of $131,000.

Her trip to Vancouver for a family funeral was booked on government aircraft, and only later did the former premier book two meetings there.

The report says the premier’s office dramatically understated the cost of running the planes and disregarded an internal report that said $3.9 million could have been saved using commercial planes and paying mileage for driving.

“How could this have happened? The answer is the aura of power around Premier Redford and her office and the perception that the influence of the office should not be questioned.”

The report was released to Premier Dave Hancock on Friday. Redford resigned as MLA on Tuesday and on Wednesday, Hancock called for a criminal investigation into her actions.

In a statement released Thursday, Hancock said the governing party will repay the costs of the partisan flights.

“The Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta has stepped forward to reimburse government for the cost of flights which the Auditor General has determined to have been primarily for party purposes,” he said.

The government has accepted all six recommendations in the report.

“While we have measures in place to prevent the inappropriate use of public resources, the findings of this report make it clear that we can and must do better,” Hancock said.

Justice Minister Jonathan Denis confirmed in a statement that the report has been forwarded to the RCMP and that prosecutors from Ontario will be assigned to the investigation to assure independence.

The NDP is calling for a public inquiry into the abuse of government resources.

NDP critic Deron Bilous said Thursday that the auditor general’s report suggests Hancock and other ministers lied to the House about partisan use of planes. He said Hancock and ministers told the legislature there was government business in Grande Prairie, but the auditor general found there wasn’t any.

Wildrose critic Kerry Towle said the report demonstrates the government is “off the rails,” as there was no oversight of the premier’s office. Towle said Hancock should demand Finance Minister Doug Horner’s immediate resignation because he has “failed to do his job” and also bears responsibility for plane abuses. His failures have cost taxpayers millions, Towle said.


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