Surrounded by dozens of Tory MLAs at a late-afternoon press conference, Premier Alison Redford announced plans to make the expense claims of all cabinet ministers, MLAs, and government officials publicly available on the internet.
After a summer of scandals and embarrassing revelations, ranging from the overflowing expense accounts of former regional health authority executive Allaudin Merali and current University of Calgary board chairman Doug Black, the suspicious hiring of former cabinet minister Evan Berger, and the cancellation of funding to a long-promised police college in Fort Macleod, Alberta Tories must be desperately thirsty for anything that could be cast as a good news story.
The new rules place limits on the purchase of business class airline tickets and a ban on expensing alcohol. What format the expense disclosures will be made available online is still unknown. As I wrote about last month, not all online transparency is created equally (or accessibly). As has also been pointed out by political reporters online, the new rules are unclear if there will be sanctions for employees who break the new expense rules. It is also unclear if the rationale behind any special exemptions, made by the Treasury Board, will be made public.
Yesterday’s burst of transparency comes one week after Premier Redford and Finance Minister Doug Horner were widely criticized for only not releasing the full data from the quarterly provincial fiscal update which predicted a potential $3 billion deficit. Earlier in the summer, it was announced that Elections Alberta investigations into illegal donations to the Progressive Conservative Party would also remain secret.
Perhaps trying to create a positive defining narrative for Premier Redford’s government, which has been largely absent since the April 2012 election, Ontario-based public relations and issues management expert Stefan Baranski has been tapped to work with the Premier. A Principal with Counsel Public Affairs, Mr. Baranski founded ontarionewswatch.com and served as senior advisor to PC leaders Tim Hudak and John Tory, and Premier Ernie Eves. In 2010, he served a Director of Communications and chief spokesperson for Toronto mayoral candidate George Smitherman.
Earlier this year, Calgary-Centre Conservative Member of Parliament Lee Richardson left Ottawa to join Premier Redford’s staff as her Principal Secretary. I am told that long-time Tory and Volunteer Alberta executive director Karen Lynch recently joined Premier Redford’s staff as her director of tours and schedules.