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.
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?