Alberta opposition politicians are calling on the RCMP to investigate former premier Alison Redford over findings by the auditor general about her use of government aircraft.
An internal report to the government from Merwan Saher, obtained exclusively by CBC News, found that "false passengers" were booked on the planes, making it possible for Redford to fly alone with her entourage.
The passengers’ names were removed just before printing the flight manifest, the report said.
Redford issued a statement about the auditor general’s findings Tuesday evening, saying she had read media reports but had not yet seen the full report.
“I understand from the media that the draft report refers to certain flight booking practices in the office of the premier,” she wrote in a statement. “I would be surprised if these allegations are true, but in any event, I also understand that the draft report makes clear that these were not practices that I had any knowledge of, which reflects my comments to the auditor general.”
In fact, the report states that Redford and her chief of staff Farouk Adatia said they knew nothing of those practices.
'As far as I am concerned there was never any directive preventing others from flying on government aircraft when I was a passenger.' —Alison Redford statement
Redford also denies arranging flights and blocking passengers for her personal benefit.
“It would not be true to suggest that I flew on the government plane alone. Despite the allegations raised today, as far as I am concerned there was never any directive preventing others from flying on government aircraft when I was a passenger. In fact, on most occasions that I can recall, when I was on government flights, I travelled with other elected officials, public servants and staff.”
Redford said she had co-operated fully with the auditor general in preparing the report and would continue to do so.
Opposition calls on PC leaders to launch investigation
Wildrose finance critic Rob Anderson has called on interim Premier Dave Hancock – who took over when Redford resigned in March amid controversy over her spending and expenses – to request an RCMP investigation into the matter.
“Frankly these allegations and details are shocking,” he said at a news conference held Tuesday afternoon.
Anderson said his party would like to see the investigation extend to include the current premier as well as Finance Minister Doug Horner, saying that it would be nearly “unthinkable” that the flight manifests were altered without others knowing.
“The fact is, there is simply no way that these actions could have been taken without other senior government staff and cabinet ministers knowing full well about it,” he said. “Who else knew what was going on here?”
Anderson said the matter seemed to suggest a deeper pattern of dishonesty, which could only be addressed through a formal investigation and with the support of the current premier and three candidates in the running for party leadership.
"Premier Dave Hancock has a duty and a moral obligation to fulfil that expectation. That’s why he should step up immediately, he should demonstrate leadership and he should call on the RCMP, as we are doing, to investigate the situation.”
When asked if Redford should resign, Anderson seemed mystified. “I guess it’s difficult for me to understand how somebody can go ahead and go ahead and pretend that they have the backing of their constituents when I think it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t.”
Alberta does not have recall legislation, he added.
Liberals also call for investigation
Speaking Tuesday, Liberal Leader Raj Sherman also called for an investigation into Redford's plane usage.
"This is a waste of taxpayer money and a deliberate attempt to mislead," Sherman said. "We need an RCMP investigation into this issue."
Saher believes that Redford derived a "personal benefit" by taking her teenage daughter on dozens of government flights. The girl is the only child of Redford and her husband, Glen Jermyn.
Sherman believes that Redford, who remains the member of the legislature for Calgary Elbow, should pay back the cost of those flights.
A spokeswoman for the province said Hancock would not comment on the auditor general's report, since he has not yet seen the full report.
“The premier’s not here but he is aware that the information is out there from the auditor general and he is encouraging the auditor general to fast-track the review and to get the report out there as soon as possible so that we can have a fulsome response,” said Kathleen Range.
Leadership candidates weigh in
All three candidates running to replace Redford as Progressive Conservative Party leader have also weighed in.
Ric McIver, who was a minister in Redford's cabinet before stepping down to run for the leadership, said he was angry and that Albertans should be outraged.
McIver told reporters that the matter should be "further investigated by the proper authorities," but stopped short of suggesting police should be involved.
"That's not for me to decide, but I can say that the proper authorities should find out who is responsible and the person or persons responsible need to be held accountable," he said.
McIver said that he was unaware of "false passengers" being booked and then dropped from flights on government planes.
Thomas Lukaszuk, who served as Redford’s deputy premier, said that if he was elected party leader and became premier, he would ask caucus to consider Redford's removal from the PC caucus.
He would also ask a "third-party legal expert" to review all of Redford's expenditures.
“And tell me, and tell Albertans, publicly, whether he or she believes that any laws were broken,” he said, adding that if there were, he would ask the justice system to step in.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, former federal Conservative cabinet minister and current leadership candidate Jim Prentice called the travel expenses “unacceptable.”
“There is no room in government for the blatant abuse of taxpayer dollars, and if public officials fail to observe this, the RCMP should be called to investigate and these abuses must be met with the full force of the law,” he wrote.