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Alison Redford, left, and Susan Fennell.

Jeff McIntosh / J.P. Moczulski

Mistakes were made. The buck stops here. I take responsibility for my decisions. I just won't specify precisely which decisions.

Wednesday was a day when two politicians facing allegations of lavish expenses responded with declarations of responsibility so vague they seemed nothing like a mea culpa. This has become a peculiarly political formula: taking credit for taking responsibility without actually talking about what you did wrong.

Alison Redford, the former Alberta premier, said goodbye to the provincial legislature with an open letter published in newspaper that declared "mistakes were made" but so completely avoided specifics about them as to make the whole thing passive-aggressive.

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There was no mention of the $45,000 trip to South Africa, the plan to build a penthouse office, or her alleged penchant for flying solo on government planes. Instead, she expressed a hope that Alberta would move beyond parochial politics to a bolder vision.

Meanwhile, in Brampton, Mayor Susan Fennell was also thinking on a higher plane. Presumably that's why she spent $220 of city money on mobile-phone IQ quizzes, which was one little faux pas among the tens of thousands in expenses that breached city rules, or left auditors questioning.

A Deloitte audit found $120,000 spent on expensive flight passes, stays in luxury rooms, and a business-class trip to London, England. It also found some odd things that weren't necessarily violations of the rules, like the mayor receiving a car allowance but also paying a $45,000-a-year contract for a limousine service.

"I accept responsibility for all that I do as Mayor of Brampton, positive and less positive," Ms. Fennell said in a statement. "If there are changes that need to be made, I will make them."

Well, that settles it then. If, after thinking it over, the less positive actually needs to be changed, she will change it. If. Of course, Ms. Fennell didn't actually acknowledge what's less positive, so who knows. She did list allegations reported by the Toronto Star that turned out to be inaccurate. She just didn't go into details on what she did wrong. But, she assures the good people of Brampton, she accepts responsibility.

Ms. Fennell even borrowed an old chestnut from Harry Truman: "the buck stops here." Which buck? Where? What exactly, is going to stop?

Perhaps neither feels that her expense transgressions merit the public pillorying they've received.

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Ms. Fennell's mistakes, it's true, don't seem to fail the smell test as dismally as Kwikwetlem band chief Ron Giesbrecht's $800,000 bonus, and don't fail the legal test like London, Ont., mayor Joe Fontana's fraudulent $1,700 invoice-fiddle from the days when he was a Liberal cabinet minister.

And Ms. Redford, for her part, has already faced so much outrage, you can understand why she's had enough. It would be hard to blame her if she quietly disappeared.

But then she published an open resignation letter with those vague claims of accepting responsibility that suggested that she didn't really. What about those flights? She's never really said. She left the impression that some bad things somehow happened, because of somebody.

"I recognize that mistakes were made along the way," Ms. Redford wrote in a passive tense that obscures the question of who made them. "In hindsight, there were many things I would have done differently," she added. "That said, I accept responsibility for all the decisions I have made."

Of course, everyone's responsible for his or her decisions. Accepting responsibility, especially in a public declaration, starts with admitting which ones were your decisions. Identifying the bad ones is next.

For Ms. Redford, that's just part of the post-mortem now. She's left office. She just didn't provide closure. Maybe, in Brampton, Ms. Fennell can have another try. Neither has succeeded in taking responsibility.

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