Alberta's former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, now a Conservative leadership candidate, is being accused of hypocrisy for his public stand against entitlement after an anonymous tip to CBC News revealed he flew his young daughter on several government flights.
After receiving an unsigned letter on Friday, CBC News reviewed flight manifests posted online that showed Lukaszuk took his eldest daughter with him on seven flights between 2007 and 2012, including one flight when he was deputy premier under former premier Alison Redford.
Lukaszuk reimbursed the province for the cost of the flights last month. But only after Alberta's auditor general issued a report that found Redford derived a personal benefit by taking her daughter on 50 government flights, including two weekend trips to Jasper.
“When the auditor general did a review of all the flights, he concluded that under no circumstances should family members fly with elected officials, moving forward,” Lukaszuk told CBC News on Monday.
“So I actually asked, voluntarily — I approached the minister of finance to tell me what the cost would have been if I was to buy a ticket for my daughter, even though I was working, there was no personal benefit in it for me.
“And I paid it back voluntarily, ahead of time,” he said, adding that the cheque was for about $1,400.
Lukaszuk told CBC News he took his daughter on three round-trip flights.
The first was an emergency trip to Grimshaw when he was education minister to inspect a collapsing school. Lukaszuk said his daughter came along because it was professional development day for teachers and he was then a single father.
A second flight was a same-day return trip to Medicine Hat. Lukaszuk said his daughter sat in the school library and read while he met with school board officials.
He could not recall the purpose of a third flight to Calgary — an overnight trip.
Lukaszuk said he saw no reason to publicly disclose his daughter flew on government flights and that he repaid the cost.
‘It smacks of hypocrisy’
Since entering the Tory leadership race in May, Lukaszuk has striven to position himself as a principled outsider with the “moral fortitude” to clean up what opposition politicians call the Conservative government’s ingrained sense of entitlement and chronic abuse of the taxpayer-funded fleet of government aircraft.
At his campaign launch on May 22, Lukaszuk boasted he “was the first to come out and say there was an issue with entitlement. I was the first one to say that this government has lost its moral authority to govern.”
New Democrat Leader Brian Mason said Lukaszuk can't judge anyone in the Conservative party.
“I think it smacks of hypocrisy for him to be focusing on that kind of aspect because he was part of it for a very long time,” Mason said.
“Certainly none of them [Tory leadership candidates], Mr. Lukaszuk included, have their hands completely clean. And none of them are the right people to clean up the mess that the PC government has put us in.”
This is the second recent anonymous leak in a week designed to damage Lukaszuk’s leadership campaign.
Last week, a package containing a $20,000 cell phone roaming bill incurred while Lukaszuk was on holiday in Poland was couriered from Calgary to an Edmonton Sun reporter using the name of a Calgary resident who had no knowledge of the package.
As CBC News was first to report, Lukaszuk was dealing with an incident involving a cabinet minister who called him in a panic over a dispute with a sibling.
Lukaszuk said it was government business because there was a safety issue for the minister. The opposition says it's a personal matter and they've called on the Tory party to repay the $20,000.
'I think it smacks of hypocrisy for him to be focusing on that kind of aspect because he was part of it for a very long time,' - NDP Leader Brian Mason
Lukaszuk said this latest leak shows how desperate someone in another campaign has become.
“It is distasteful because we are in the middle of a very pivotal campaign for the future of Alberta,” he said.
“Instead of discussing how we are going to build daycares and how we are going to provide more adequate care for seniors, or how we are going to get pipelines to new markets, we see a whole bunch of busybodies producing envelopes and shipping them to a variety of media outlets, trying to sabotage at least two out of three campaigns.
“And I find that really distasteful and problematic.”
A review of the government flight logs by CBC News also found Treasury Board and Finance Minister Doug Horner had taken his wife on 23 separate flights dating back to 2007, when the Alberta government first began posting its flight manifests.
Like Lukaszuk, the reason given for many of the flights were simply “attending meetings with government officials.”
Horner’s wife on flights
Horner’s press secretary did not respond to interview requests on Monday.
On July 29, CBC News reported that a review by Alberta’s auditor general had found Redford’s staff booked false passengers on government planes in order to allow her and her entourage to fly alone. The auditor general also determined Redford derived a personal benefit from taking her daughter on government flights.
As Treasury Board and Finance Minister, Horner is responsible for the government fleet. He has steadfastly denied any responsibility for any abuse of the government fleet.
At a news conference on Aug. 19, both Horner and acting Premier Dave Hancock said cabinet ministers who use the planes are ultimately responsible.
“Minister Horner trusted each of us to be responsible for our use of the planes, and reminded us of the rules a number of times, to be sure that there would be no mistakes,” Hancock said. “So the responsibility is ours, when questions arise about our individual use of planes.”