Premier Dave Hancock apologized to the people of Alberta on Tuesday afternoon, saying the government will make changes following a scathing report from the auditor general.
"As elected members of that government, it is our responsibility to rebuild the trust that we have greatly lost, and to stand up and say 'we are accountable,’” Hancock said. “Each of us knows the rules, and it's up to each of us to make sure that we are adhering to those rules at all times."
Alberta Auditor General Merwan Saher found that Alison Redford and her office used taxpayer money “inappropriately” during her time as Alberta premier, using government aircraft for personal and partisan use.
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Saher said there was an “aura of power” surrounding the former premier and her office, and "a perception that the influence of the office should not be questioned."
Redford announced her resignation as member of the legislature the day before the report was released.
“They consistently failed to demonstrate in the documents we examined that their travel expenses were necessary and a reasonable and appropriate use of public resources,” Saher wrote in the scathing report.
Government will keep planes
Finance Minister Doug Horner, who is responsible for the government fleet, promised to improve accountability. He also said the treasury board committee will meet to discuss implementing a oversight policy for the premier's expenses.
While Hancock said Horner is ultimately responsible for the oversight and management of the government aircrafts, he argued that the members of the cabinet who used the planes are accountable.
“We shouldn’t need to be policed or second-guessed by the minister in charge of the planes,” he said.
There was no discussion about selling the fleet, something that the opposition has been demanding.
“The purpose of government aircraft is to conduct government business, as the premier just said, and to conduct that business sufficiently in all corners of the province,” Horner said.
“While today’s changes increase accountability, the key purpose of why we have the aircraft remain.”
More oversight needed: report
Hancock said the government accepted all recommendations in the auditor general’s report and would work to implement them immediately. He also called on the RCMP to investigate the use of government planes by Redford.
The auditor general's report included six recommendation:
- The Treasury Board and finance departments must provide oversight of premier’s expenses and use of government aircraft.
- The province must evaluate the costs of the government fleet and make the results public.
- Rules for government aircraft use must be clarified for partisan and personal use.
- The government must clarify requirements to evaluate cost effectiveness when a request is made.
- The government must evaluate out-of-province use of government aircraft. A cost-benefit analysis must be performed whenever a request is made and it must be approved by the responsible minister or deputy minister.
- The government must review the “costing model” on government aircraft and report costs to the public.
"Damage control mode," says NDP
After the report was released, critics called for Horner to resign. However, Hancock dismissed the idea Tuesday of having his finance minister step down.
Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason said the response is an example of a government that "is in crisis" and "full damage control mode."
"In my view, Mr. Horner had to know that the premier was abusing flights," Mason said. "I believe that he did nothing. Only a full public inquiry will ensure that we know who knew what, and when they knew it, with respect to this."
Hancock had originally defended the use of the planes when the issue was brought up in question period earlier this year.
“We keep government business and party business separate,” Hancock said on March 12.
On Tuesday, Hancock said he was surprised to learn that the planes were used to attend a party fundraiser in Grande Prairie, as the auditor general’s report revealed.
“I can definitely say I don’t feel that I mislead the house in the spring,” Hancock said.
“I’ll admit I was surprised by the auditor general’s report with respect to that flight because I believed right up until that report came out that flight was legitimately booked for legitimate government business that was important.”
Mason says Hancock's apology is too little, too late.
“To say it’s not my fault, it was everybody else, we had to, it was on a trust system — nobody operates that way except this government,” he said. “Everybody makes sure that there are policies in [so] resources are not abused.”