Former Alberta premier Alison Redford personally ordered a luxury penthouse 'premier’s suite' to be built in the provincially owned Federal Building now under renovation in Edmonton.
Documents obtained exclusively by CBC News under freedom of information legislation show Redford’s executive assistant, Ryan Barberio, personally ordered changes to the building’s floor plan by direct contact with the architecture firm in charge of refurbishing the Federal Building.
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One document, dated Dec. 4, 2012, details the directions given to the architect for the penthouse suite. The architect, Barbara Shipman, acknowledges she has been requested to "design the 11th floor space suitable for Senior Government and VIP functions."
The design includes a guest hosting and lounge area, seated formal dining for up to 12 people, a private study and work space for two people including “focused computer work, and a relaxed, social space for entertaining, watching TV and a library area.”
The design also specifies “sleeping and grooming quarters with clothing storage for an adult and one teenager (separate is preferable).” Redford has a young daughter.
There were also plans to build an “MLA Alumni Space” in the building, which is more than two years behind schedule and more than $21 million over budget due to structural issues. It’s not known if construction of the alumni space is continuing.
Wildrose Opposition Leader Danielle Smith said this is entitlement at its worst.
“I think this is an example of a government that is totally out of touch with the priorities of Albertans,” Smith said.
“I don’t know how much of this can be scaled back," she said. "I don’t know how much money we can save at this point. But it is an absolute disgrace that with all of the pressure the government has been under financially, and all of the competing priorities, that this is where they felt taxpayer money ought to have been spent. I think this says a lot about the government.”
Wayne Drysdale was infrastructure minister when Redford ordered the suite to be built. On Thursday he said he was too busy to be interviewed. But he provided an emailed statement in which he would only say that “consideration was given to incorporating living quarters.”
Drysdale added, however, that “as of November 15, 2012, my understanding was that these plans were abandoned in favour of two boardrooms and additional hosting space.”
The documents, however, contain emails that show the planning and design work on the premier’s suite continued after Nov. 15, 2012.
Last week, construction workers on the site told CBC News work on the apartment had begun, but the plans had been abruptly changed, and it had been replaced with offices and conference rooms.
Current Infrastructure Minister Ric McIver said after he took over the department in December, he heard “rumours” of some sort of “residential element” in the building.
“When I heard this, I just called my senior staff and made it really clear. I was very direct about the fact that there will be no residential space in there, and I got no resistance,” McIver said, adding later that he also received no resistance from the premier or her staff.
Redford did not respond to an interview request Thursday. In an email, Barberio said he was asked to act as a liaison between the premier’s office and the architects.
“Before signing off any design plans, I took steps to ensure that appropriate approvals had come from senior officials within the premier’s office,” said Barberio, who no longer works for Redford.
An undated memo prepared for executive council deputy minister Peter Watson provides some basic details of how Redford came to order what is directly referred to in the memo as the “Premier’s Suite.”
The memo says the top floor of the building — the 11th floor — “was originally planned as an extension of the 10th floor hosting space with an access to the green roof. The space between the elevator shafts was planned as the Premier’s Den, similar to a private space provided at Government House.”
Government House is a provincial building near the provincial museum in Edmonton, used for ceremonial functions and government caucus meetings.
“The attached memo was produced after Kasian Architecture was contacted directly by the Premier’s office to discuss: providing residential functions on the 11th floor; providing flexibility for smaller dining events on the 10th floor; selecting furniture and finishes on the 10th and 11th floor.
“Infrastructure project management staff members were not involved in these discussions,” the memo states. “They requested and received the attached approval drawing for the changes to the 11th floor, which was signed by Ryan Barberio.”
No public notice
The documents also reveal the government was keen to keep the apartment secret, and was prepared to overrule the City of Edmonton if necessary to keep it so.
In an Aug. 23, 2012 email, Kent Phillips, a senior Infrastructure manager, describes “a building code issue to be resolved” with the city.
Phillips states that he and someone from the architecture firm met with Maurice Otto, the city’s chief building code official, to discuss the premier’s residence in the building. Phillips said Otto told them, “The sleeping areas are considered a ‘major occupancy’ on the 11th floor and therefore a revised Development Permit would be required. This would require a public notice.
“I politely reminded Mr. Otto that the Government of Alberta does not actually require a Development Permit, as the more senior level of government and that no public notice could be issued for security reasons.”
Phillips said that “to avoid a confrontation” the department had asked a consultant how to avoid the “major occupancy” designation associated with a residential suite.
“Our ‘fallback’ position is to seek a Ministerial ruling from the Safety Standards Branch of Municipal Affairs,” Phillips said.
Wildrose Leader Smith said the government needs to immediately publicly disclose all the plans for the Federal Building. McIver said he is willing to go even further.
“I’m going to have my staff arrange a tour for you and the rest of the media in the very near future, so you can go see for yourself,” the minister said.