Former Alberta premier Alison Redford and her staff “used public resources inappropriately” and sidestepped provincial rules through travel spending and personal use of government planes, according to an audit that found Ms. Redford commanded an “aura of power” that led few people to question her or her office.
The report from provincial Auditor-General Merwan Saher detailed widespread shortcomings under the watch of Ms. Redford, who resigned her seat a day before the audit’s release Thursday. The audit led to hand-wringing among Progressive Conservatives, with the government pledging to accept Mr. Saher’s recommendations and tighten the rules and the party saying it will repay $6,500 in flight costs.
The impact of the audit, however, could spread beyond the political legacy of Ms. Redford, who resigned as premier in March, and shake the foundation of a party that has governed since 1971. The province has referred the audit to RCMP and, to ensure independence, Ontario Crown prosecutors to consider charges. Opposition parties have called for the resignation of Finance Minister Doug Horner, once a key Redford ally whose job includes overseeing use of government planes. The audit also links several government ministers, and a current leadership candidate, tangentially to some of the partisan trips Ms. Redford took on government planes, and refutes claims made by the current premier.
The report found Ms. Redford typically flew business class and stayed in hotels where the government had not negotiated discount rates. Her staff produced little or no paper trail on some spending decisions, and many of her expenses were filed by other staff, it found. Mr. Saher said he looked up the word “aura” before settling on the “aura of power” phrase. “This is the sense we had – that this working around rules, this tendency even to ignore rules, is to fulfill requests coming from the premier’s office in ways that avoided leaving the premier with personal responsibility for those decisions,” he told reporters.
Ms. Redford made largely personal trips on government planes in 2013 to Vancouver and Jasper, Alta., the report found, with the latter trip coming last year during flooding in Calgary. She spent three days at the Jasper Park Lodge with her daughter, her daughter’s friend and an aide, taking three meetings at the hotel. It cost taxpayers $5,761. The Vancouver trip was for her uncle’s funeral, with meetings booked once she decided to fly there, the report found.
The report also showed Ms. Redford’s staff would block-book planes with false passenger lists, which were altered at the last minute, a practice that had the effect of reserving the government plane for only Ms. Redford and her guests.
Ms. Redford has already repaid $47,000 in travel costs, the bulk of it for a trip to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa, but Mr. Saher suggested she should pay back more. “With the facts that we now have, I think the case can be made that what has been repaid is an insufficient sum,” he said.
Mr. Horner responded on behalf of government, saying he did not know Ms. Redford’s office was block-booking flights extensively. “Albertans deserve better, and we are committed to doing better, all of us,” he pledged, later conceding: “It was not a good day for me.” He said the government will review use of the planes, including potentially selling them, but that they allow ministers to travel to remote areas.
Ms. Redford said in an op-ed Wednesday that “mistakes were made” but did not apologize and said she would not have any further comment.
The audit also found Ms. Redford intervened in the province’s renovation of a building near the legislature to add a premier’s suite to its upper floors. The audit revealed that the suite is still being built, though the space will be used for meetings.
The audit found eight cases where Ms. Redford used one of the province’s planes to attend partisan events, including three – a party fundraiser, board meeting and golf event – where the auditor found no evidence of government business. Flight manifests tie several current MLAs to those flights, including ministers Fred Horne, Cal Dallas and Wayne Drysdale, who flew back with Ms. Redford from Grande Prairie, where the audit said she attended a fundraiser. PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk acknowledged he flew with Ms. Redford on one of the partisan flights flagged by the auditor, but said he continued on to another community for government work and did not know where Ms. Redford was heading.
The auditor stopped short of digging into whether other MLAs broke the rules, and did not identify which staffers booked Ms. Redford’s flights and other travel.
All three men vying to become the next PC leader – Jim Prentice, Ric McIver and Mr. Lukaszuk – condemned Ms. Redford after the audit’s release. “It’s obvious that she personally had a gross disregard for taxpayers’ money and assets, and then that permeated her office,” Mr. Lukaszuk said.
Premier Dave Hancock said in an e-mail “the findings of this report make it clear that we can and must do better.” He has previously denied that the Grande Prairie trip was for a fundraiser, despite the auditor’s findings.
PC president Jim McCormick pinned the blame on Ms. Redford. “The actions of our former leader have let down all these members who volunteer their own time and money to make this province a better place. This cannot, and will not, happen again,” he said in a statement.
It is not known yet whether the RCMP will lay charges. University of Calgary professor emeritus of law Patrick Knoll said repayments would affect sentencing, not whether a person is charged. “Repayment is an important consideration in penalty – when there is a conviction – but does not vitiate the offence,” he said.
Former Alberta finance minister Lloyd Snelgrove, an early critic of Ms. Redford, said Mr. Horner had “totally abdicated the responsibility that I had as the person responsible for planes,” and that rules around plane use were clear. He said the auditor’s report will make it tough for whoever wins the PC leadership in September.