Alberta Politics

“transparency” is hard when your party has been in power for 41 years.

Premier Alison Redford Alberta
Premier Alison Redford

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 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.

7 replies on ““transparency” is hard when your party has been in power for 41 years.”

I suspect she will fudge the rules, much like she has fudged everything else. Was it not Raj Sherman who referred to it as the “fudge-it budget.”

Dave, The feds have been requiring senior officials to post their actual expense on-line for years, although they recently seem to lack detail. I remember meeting a senior federal official at the Edmonton Westin a few years ago. I asked him why he was staying there and not at the Fairmont Macdonald, which I thought nicer. He replied to the effect that of course it would be nicer, but since his expense accounts were all posted on line, he made a practice of staying at the second best hotel in any city he went to.

Well, I for one welcome the new rules. We will have to see how things are done, but I’m glad to see the policy (at least) get some action. Keep watching this for us , Dave.

Simon: just..”Wow!”.

Look, I appreciate that senior government officials are often required to travel, disrupting their home lives, etc., but they’re presumably well paid to do so, and knew the conditions of work before they signed on.

And I don’t think that they should face hardship when they travel. They should be reasonably close to where the majority of their meetings are, they probably require amenities such as available meeting rooms, secure internet hook-ups, etc, and they probably don’t need to be in a hotel where there is a lot of rowdyness and noise.

But for anyone travelling on the public dime to EXPECT to be accomodated at the second-nicest hotel in town(a subjective notion, to be sure) as a CONCESSION to the requirement to post expenses strikes me as a little rich, to put it mildly.

THIS is the culture of “entitlement”.

There’s lots of hotels that can fulfill the requirements of travelling executives and senior government officials for a lot less money (especially when one considers that hotels routinely offer “executive” and “government” rates). I, for one, would be curious to know why “senior government officials” aren’t accomodated at, say, the 5th through 10th “nicest” hotels in town.

Maybe, just maybe, government officials should be given specific budgets for each incident of travel and accomodations and be rewarded for not using it all, say, by giving them half the amount not used.

I’m a bit more skeptical about this policy, probably because it’s touted as Redford delivering on her commitment to transparency when it will deliver very little. The amount of public money at risk under the expense account policy is miniscule when compared to the amount of public money at risk under the 2012-13 budget. And yet Redford expects a pat on the back for preventing misuse under the expense account policy but she won’t make Horner provide a budget update that is at least as fulsome as the one the PCs provided last year. Not an encouraging trend.

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