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Politics Alberta government planes ‘abused for decades,’ Wildrose leader says

Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith is photographed at her party's annual meeting in Red Deer, Alta., on Oct. 27, 2013.

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

The leader of Alberta's Wildrose party has taken a shot at how former premier Alison Redford was allowed to misuse government flights, calling it "a conspiracy of everybody to turn a blind eye."

Danielle Smith spoke with reporters on Friday for the first time since Ms. Redford resigned her seat in the Calgary-Elbow riding and the Auditor-General released his report on the former premier's travel habits. In the report, Merwan Saher wrote that Ms. Redford "used public resources inappropriately."

Mr. Saher also noted that the premier and her staff operated with "an aura of power," which resulted in few people questioning Ms. Redford or her office.

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Ms. Smith, head of the official opposition, said the government planes have been "abused for decades," although the Redford government "took it to a new level."

"The fact that you would have a premier with the capability of being able to book those passengers and force others with legitimate public business to take commercial aircraft," Ms. Smith said. "The fact they were being used to transport family and friends or take people on vacations. That would not happen if we just had commercial flights as well as the occasional charter when it is needed. It's very clear to me that the government planes were a source of the problem."

Wildrose members also drew a bead on Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose job includes watching over the government planes and how they are dispatched. There have been calls for Mr. Horner to resign. Ms. Smith is hoping a public inquiry will be held to examine the use of government planes and its cost.

She said it is time for the government to get out of the airline business.

"It's quite clear we're not getting the value out of this," Ms. Smith noted. "They're being abused and we have a Finance Minister who doesn't do his job to oversee and make sure the policy is being followed."

In response to the Auditor-General's report, the Tories agreed on Thursday to adopt new guidelines recommended by Mr. Saher and to pay back the $6,500 owed for flights Ms. Redford took with her daughter and her daughter's friends.

The province has sent the report to the RCMP and, to ensure independence, Ontario Crown prosecutors will consider charges.

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Ms. Smith said the actions of Ms. Redford and her party were inexcusable yet understandable.

"It was this notion again, going back to this aura of power, that once you get elected premier under a PC party banner, the rules don't apply to you any more."

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