Alberta tightens rules on use of government planes

'Apologies are not enough'

EDMONTON — Alberta says it is tightening rules for government aircraft following a harsh report that outlined inappropriate use of the planes by former premier Alison Redford.

Finance Minister Doug Horner says guests or family members on the planes will have to be preapproved and commercial flight options considered.

A quarterly update with details of all flights and their costs is also to be done, he said Tuesday.

A ban on using the planes for out-of-province travel remains. Redford brought in the restriction after questions arose last spring about her travel habits, including a $45,000 trip to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

Horner said it will be up to whomever is chosen Alberta premier next month in the Tory leadership race to make any further changes.

Earlier this month, auditor general Merwan Saher found that Redford and her office used government aircraft for personal and partisan use.

Dave Hancock, who took over from Redford when she resigned as premier in March, apologized for the misuse, but pointed out Saher made clear that the blame falls squarely on the former premier and her office.

“He takes pains to say that his findings should not be extrapolated out to others across government,” Hancock said. “But, even so, there’s no question that Albertans feel let down by their government and that means all of us,” he said.

“Each of us knows the rules and it is up to each of us to make sure that we are adhering to those rules at all times — whether we’re taking planes, we’re talking travel expenses or anything.

“We know what is appropriate and we know what isn’t.”

Hancock also defended his finance minister, who has been criticized since the report was released for not keeping a closer eye on what was going on. There have also been calls from the opposition for Horner’s resignation.

“Ultimately, the oversight and management of the use of planes is the responsibility of the minister in charge of them,” Hancock acknowledged.

“In reality, the responsibility is that of members of cabinet who use the planes.”

Saher found that Redford’s office booked “false passengers” on government planes to make it look like flights were full and to ensure she could fly alone. The names were removed at the last minute.

He also said Redford’s daughter flew with her on the planes dozens of times. Some of the trips were for private reasons.

Saher said there was an “aura of power” surrounding Redford and her office, along with “a perception that the influence of the office should not be questioned.”

Redford announced her resignation as a backbench member of the legislature the day before Saher’s report was released. She said she would not be commenting on the findings.