Opposition calls for Doug Horner’s resignation over wife’s flights

Critics are calling on Alberta Treasury Board president and Finance Minister Doug Horner to resign after CBC News revealed he took his wife on 23 government flights between 2007 and 2013.
Finance Minister Doug Horner is under fire for taking his wife on 23 government flights between 2007 and 2013. (CBC)

Critics are calling on Alberta Treasury Board president and Finance Minister Doug Horner to resign after CBC News revealed he took his wife on 23 government flights between 2007 and 2013.

“Today, we learned that Finance Minister Doug Horner, the man in charge of making sure that the government air fleet was being used properly and within the rules, is just as guilty as his cabinet colleagues in abusing the fleet,” Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson told a Calgary news conference Tuesday.

Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson called on Finance Minister Doug Horner to step down on Tuesday. (CBC)

“In fact, he is more guilty than almost any one of his cabinet colleagues,” Anderson said.

Horner’s press secretary Jessica Jacobs-Mino said he was unavailable for comment. In a release to media outlets, she detailed five round-trip flights - 10 flights total - to events for which she said Horner’s wife had been invited to attend.

There was no calendar information for the remaining flights. Several flight manifests simply referred to “attend meetings with government officials.”

“As we’ve stated repeatedly, the current ATS (Air Transportation Service) policy left passengers on any government aircraft to the discretion of the requesting Minister,” the release states.

“We recently confirmed with the auditor general that it is acceptable for a minister’s spouse to fly on government aircraft, provided government business is conducted. This is reflected in the new rules we instated in response to the Auditor General’s report. It will be up to the next premier to review ATS in full and determine next steps for government aircraft.”

Lukaszuk flew daughter

In response to a query from CBC News, the auditor-general’s office issued a statement that said:

“It is the opinion of this office that if a minister and his or her spouse are invited to an event that is government business, and that partner or spouse participates in that government business, then the use of the government aircraft is acceptable.”

The auditor general is not conducting any further review of the government fleet’s operation.

Also on Tuesday, CBC News revealed it had received an anonymous tip that former Alberta deputy premier and current Conservative leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk had flown his daughter on seven government flights dating back to 2007.

Lukaszuk admitted he flew his daughter on the flights but said he repaid the estimated $1,400. He said he saw no need to publicly disclose the flights or the repayment. On Monday however, he called for a wider audit of all cabinet ministers’ expenses.

Edmonton Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman did not accept Lukaszuk’s explanation for not disclosing the flights or the repayment. She noted he only made the payment after Alberta’s auditor general issued a scathing report in early August about the abuse of the government fleet by former premier Alison Redford.

“Everybody can see through that,” Blakeman said. “He doesn’t have an ethical centre to move from, so he (repaid the cost of the flights) after the fact when he thought it was going to give him trouble for a leadership race.”

In April, CBC News revealed Redford had flown her daughter on 50 government flights, including for two long weekends in Jasper in which her young daughter was accompanied by a friend.

False passengers

In late July, CBC News obtained a leaked copy of an auditor general’s report which revealed Redford’s staff had booked fake passengers on government planes to allow her to fly alone. The auditor general also found Redford had derived a personal benefit from taking her daughter on the flights. Acting Premier Dave Hancock has asked the RCMP to review Redford’s use of the planes.

After Auditor General Merwan Saher released his official report Aug. 7, Horner told reporters that he was not personally responsible for abuses of the government aircraft.

“The policy, in terms of the usage, common sense and reasonable judgment should apply in all decision making,” he told an Aug. 7 news conference.

“Albertans expect reasonable judgments and they expect responsible people to make those common-sense kinds of decisions. I do too.

“And I have reiterated that to all of my cabinet colleagues, that these things must be made in accordance with, ‘You’re going to have to stand up there and defend what you have done,p’” Horner said.

The auditor general’s review had also found that government planes had been used by Tory MLAs and ministers to attend partisan events, such as fundraisers. Both Horner and acting premier Dave Hancock had previously publicly denied this was true.

Opposition critics on Tuesday again renewed their calls for the scandal-ridden government fleet to be sold.

“I think they should get rid of the planes and that takes the temptation away from them,” Blakeman said.