Tag Archives: Auditor General

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was a guest on the #abvote Google Hangout on April 9, 2015.

A closer look at what the NDP platform said about ethics in government

After 44-years of one-party government, Alberta voters stampeded to the polls to remove the Progressive Conservatives from office in the May 5 election. The defining narrative of the election was accountability and trust in government and on this issue voters coalesced around Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party.

Now with the election over and the NDP transitioning into government, it is important to remember what the new governing party promised in before its historic victory. Here is what the NDP said on the topic of ethics and honesty in government in its 2015 election platform with my commentary below:

(2.1) We will ban both corporate and union donations to political parties.

A policy supported by both the NDP and the Wildrose Party, this change can be expected to easily pass through the legislature. It is unknown whether the NDP will propose to lower contribution limits that individuals will be able to donate to political parties or change the current political contribution tax credit. The current annual maximum donation outside of an election period is $15,000 and during the election period is $30,000.

In Manitoba, where the NDP has governed since 1999, the maximum annual limit an individual can donate to a political party is $3,000.

(2.2) We will make infrastructure decisions and priorities transparent with a public “infrastructure sunshine list,” so that funding goes to build the most important projects rather than to promote the political fortunes of the PCs.

This policy proposal was a reaction to an Auditor General Ethics Commissioner report in January 2015 that accused Education Minister Gordon Dirks of using his office for political gain while he was running as a PC candidate in the Calgary-Elbow by-election. The report accused Mr. Dirks of authorizing the construction of modular classrooms for a school in his constituency before the by-election was held.

(2.3) We will strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act to prevent MLAs from using their position to benefit their own financial interests or that of political friends, and to strengthen cooling-off periods for former political staff. We will also expand the application of the Act to apply to all senior staff of all of our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.

The issue of MLA conflict of interest and lobbying has been an ongoing issue in Alberta politics in recent years. I could write an entire post about the Conflict of Interests Act, which I may do soon.

(2.4) We will amend the Elections Act to prohibit MLAs from using government resources during elections and we will ensure the Chief Electoral officer can effectively investigate breaches of the Act.

See my comment on (2.2) above.

(2.5) We will extend the sunshine list to include our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.

The current “sunshine list” of government salaries applies only to employees of the public service. In January 2015, the PC Government backed away from its plans to include agencies, boards and commissions, claiming that it could not force these arms-length entities from disclosing employee salaries. The NDP campaign promise did not specify whether post-secondary institutions would be included.

(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.

This proposal is a response to the blatant interference by Premier Jim Prentice in legislative committee business earlier this year which led to PC MLAs reversing their decision to not cut funding for the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate. PC MLAs also voted to cut funding for the Office of the Auditor General.

Like the perennial promise of free-votes made by opposition parties, this proposal is problematic. In our current parliamentary system, the executive branch can be expected to exert a certain amount of influence on the legislative branch of government, and this extends to committee work. The challenge is to limit that influence so that the legislative branch can be effective and not just a rubber stamp for the Premier’s Office.

Alison Redford resigns as MLA for Calgary-Elbow

Alberta Progressive Conservative Election Jim Prentice Alison Redford

All PC Party leadership candidates are taking aim at Ms. Redford, trying to place the blame for every mistake the government has made for the past two years solely on her.

One-hundred and thirty-six days after Alison Redford was forced to resign as Premier of Alberta, she has announced that she will resign as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow.

Thomas Lukaszuk Alison Redford Alberta

During happier times: Alison Redford and Thomas Lukaszuk

Through an opinion-editorial published in the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald, the former premier defended her record as premier and  refused to apologize for the misdeeds and scandals that occurred during her time as Premier of Alberta.

“I recognize that mistakes were made along the way. In hindsight, there were many things I would have done differently. That said, I accept responsibility for all the decisions I have made.”

Ms. Redford had been facing intense pressure to resign as MLA after months of controversy, including a leaked draft of a damning Auditor General report criticizing her expensive travel habits on the government dime.

The full report from Auditor General Merwan Saher is scheduled to be released on tomorrow. Ms. Redford resigned today.

This week, her former deputy premier called on Progressive Conservative MLAs to hold an emergency meeting to remove her from the governing caucus. PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk, the front man for Ms. Redford’s brutal funding cuts to Alberta’s colleges and universities, continues to take advantage of any opportunity to attack the former premier.

And he was not alone. All PC Party leadership candidates have taken aim at Ms. Redford, trying to place the blame for every mistake the government has made for the past two years solely on her.

Mr. Lukaszuk’s main opponent, bank executive Jim Prentice, has tried his best to avoid connecting himself in anyway to his party’s former leader. The front-runner refuses to even mention Ms. Redford by name when speaking to the media.

But while Mr. Prentice is aiming for a complete public divorce from his predecessor, he cannot escape the fact that the majority of his supporters in the PC caucus also supported Ms. Redford.

Ric McIver, the arch-conservative dark horse of the PC leadership race, did not ask Ms. Redford to resign, but was also critical of his former leader.

Ms. Redford’s resignation means that a by-election will need to be called in the Calgary-Elbow constituency within the next six months (by February 5, 2015). This will be the second by-election in Calgary-Elbow since 2007, when former Premier Ralph Klein retired from politics. The Liberals won that by-election.

Kennedy-Glans requests a return

Donna Kennedy Glans MLA Calgary Varsity

Donna Kennedy-Glans

In a strange move that will now be buried under the news of Ms. Redford’s most recent resignation, Independent MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans chose the middle of the summer to distribute a media release declaring that she wants to rejoin the PC caucus. Ms. Kennedy-Glans infamously left the PC caucus days before Ms. Redford’s resignation, saying that she was “increasingly convinced that elements of this 43-year old government are simply unable to make the changes needed to achieve that dream of a better Alberta.” It is unclear what has changed in the past five months to make her change her mind. 

As Stephen Carter penned on his Calgary Herald blog, Ms. Kennedy-Glans, a) wants a spot in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet, and b) does not want to chance being challenged by a ‘star’ PC candidate in the next election. All the respect that Ms. Kennedy-Glans earned when she left the government on principle on appears to have been lost with this seemingly politically opportunistic move.

Airplane scandal takes off as Tory support, fundraising effort nose dives

Air Alison RedfordYesterday’s Speech from the Throne was old news as scandal erupted today over Premier Alison Redford’s alleged inappropriate use of government-owned airplanes.

Premier Alison Redford

Premier Alison Redford

After facing criticism over her $45,000 trip to South Africa and a $9,200 trip from Palm Springs, Ms. Redford struggled to control the story today by announcing plans to pay $3,100 for costs associated with five other fights on government airplanes. These new flights include four where her daughter’s friend traveled for free and a fifth to Vancouver, where the premier apparently attended her uncle’s funeral.

On March 22, 2013, Ms. Redford traveled on a government plane with her daughter, a political assistant and a member of her security detail from Calgary to Vancouver. In the public flight manifests, the purpose of the trip is listed as “attend meeting(s) with government officials.” If Ms. Redford was attending to government business in Vancouver as the manifest states, it is unclear why, almost a year later, she has decided to pay the costs of the flight.

Doug Horner

Doug Horner

The government airplane, and presumably its government-employed pilots, parked at Vancouver International Airport until Monday, March 25, 2013, when fight records show they returned to Alberta with the premier, her daughter and her entourage.

The premier has asked Finance minister Doug Horner to “find greater cost efficiencies” in government travel expenses, and has also referred the matter to Auditor General Merwan Saher.

Involving the Auditor General accomplishes two important public relations objectives: first, it allows the government to deflect questions from the media until the AG reports back, and second, it means the opposition cannot ask questions about Ms. Redford’s travel expenses in Question Period until the AG reports back.

As Ms. Redford appears to be the only MLA involved in this scandal, it is unclear who else the Auditor General will investigate.

Readers of this blog will remember that in February 2013, Ms. Redford removed Tourism minster Christine Cusanelli from cabinet after it was revealed she had used government funds to fly her family to the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Ms. Cusanelli later repaid the costs, but now sits in the backbenches.

The airplane scandal comes to light as a new poll shows Alberta’s long-governing Progressive Conservatives at an all-time low of 25% support province-wide and Ms. Redford with a 20% approval rating.

Meanwhile, leaked emails show Tory organizers were forced to delay the launch of the new “PC Legacy Fund” after it failed to sign up enough PC MLAs and party officials to contribute to the fundraising program.

This latest turbulence begs the question: can Ms. Redford’s leadership survive, and, who stands to gain the most if she crashes and burns?