Controversy over Alison Redford’s expenses continues to dog the former Alberta premier, with new claims that her staff filled government flights with bogus passenger reservations to ensure no one else would be able to board the plane with Ms. Redford and her teenaged daughter.
The practice is outlined in an internal report by Alberta’s auditor-general obtained by the CBC. The probe by Auditor-General Merwan Saher concludes that Ms. Redford enjoyed a “personal benefit” by taking her daughter, Sarah Jermyn, on government planes.
“I understand from the media that the draft report refers to certain flight booking practices in the Office of the Premier,” Ms. Redford said in a statement Tuesday. “I would be surprised if these allegations are true, but in any event, I also understand that the draft report makes clear that these were not practices that I had any knowledge of, which reflects my comments to the Auditor General.”
Alberta Minister of Justice Jonathan Denis has asked for all relevant documents to be forwarded to the RCMP, Global News reported.
Wildrose finance critic Rob Anderson said an investigation is necessary. “Taken together, these findings appear to warrant a criminal investigation into what is termed under the Criminal Code as a breach of trust,” he said.
Ms. Redford, who became premier in 2011, had to step down last March after an uproar about spendthrift expense claims. Under public pressure, she reimbursed the $45,000 bill for a trip to South Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral. She also acknowledged that she used the planes to fly her daughter’s friends around, and repaid the equivalent airfare of $3,100.
Two weeks before she resigned, Ms. Redford tried to quell the storm over her spending by asking Mr. Saher to review whether her expenses were appropriate.
Mr. Saher’s final report is expected next month.
According to the internal document obtained by CBC, Redford staffers made false reservations on an internal website used to schedule flights on the government’s four turboprop planes.
“We were told by [the premier’s] office staff and multiple staff from the Department of Treasury Board and Finance that for certain flights the remaining seats available on the plane were blocked to restrict access to Premier Redford on the aircraft,” the report concludes, according to the CBC.
The bogus bookings would be removed before the flight manifest was printed.
In December, 2012, for example, Ms. Redford was booked on a commercial flight to attend a conference in Arizona but flew instead on a government plane that left the same day but carried only the premier, her daughter and one security officer.
But in her statement, Ms. Redford says: “Despite the allegations raised today, as far as I am concerned there was never any directive preventing others from flying on government aircraft when I was a passenger. In fact, on most occasions that I can recall, when I was on government flights, I travelled with other elected officials, public servants and staff.”
The latest claims are part of a pattern of extravagant expense claims that surfaced in the last months of Ms. Redford’s term as premier. She spent $9,200 to have a government plane fly her back from a Palm Springs vacation, and her aide charged taxpayers $9,000 to stay at one of Edmonton’s most expensive hotels.
There was an additional uproar over a now-cancelled plan to build a premier’s penthouse residence on the top floor of an Edmonton provincial office building.
Stephen Carter was Ms. Redford’s campaign adviser and chief of staff until he left his post last year. He has previously denied knowing about the flight booking scheme.
Asked for his opinion on Alberta’s unsettled political landscape, Mr. Carter replied: “Right now, no one is buying memberships to the PC party. The Wildrose isn’t making a step forward. I’m curious to see what happens in Alberta politics. There’s a lot of [public] distrust in politicians in general.”