Accountability act introduced by Alberta government

The Alberta government has introduced new legislation aimed at tightening rules around conflicts of interest, severance packages and travel for political staff.
Justice Minister Jonathan Denis tabled Bill 2, the Alberta Accountability Act, on Monday afternoon. (CBC)

The Alberta government has introduced new legislation aimed at tightening rules around conflicts of interest, severance packages and travel for political staff.

Bill 2, the Alberta Accountability Act, was tabled Monday afternoon by Justice Minister Jonathan Denis. He said the legislation will increase accountability and restore the public's trust in government. 

"When talented people accept public posts, it should be out of desire to advance the public good," Denis said

If passed, Bill 2 will extend the cooling-off period for political staff and senior public servants from six to 12 months. Rules followed by MLAs for conflict of interest and financial disclosure will also apply to political staff.

The use of most but not all sole-sourced contracts will end. Companies receiving those contracts would be publicly disclosed four times a year. 

Severance would be limited to three months of salary for political staff who worked for less than a year. The maximum severance payout would be limited to six months' salary. 

The bill prohibits an individual from lobbying or consulting on the same issue at the same time. However, it doesn't place limits a company fulfilling that dual role, as long as the same person is not involved. 

Denis doesn't see that as a problem. 

“These organizations have their own processes to deal with these conflicts of interest,” Denis said.

“We also didn’t want to be too draconian in moving, saying that because one person has a lobbying contract that someone at another office in another city in that organization can’t work for the government.”

The legislation amends the Lobbyist, Public Service and Conflict of Interest Acts. However, new rules on severance pay and sole-sourced contracts are not in the legislation. Instead, the government has included them in new Treasury Board directives which can easily be modified behind closed doors. 

Denis said the government had no act to amend, so the rules were included in two directives instead. 

"We dealt with this at Treasury Board [that] happened last Thursday and we will be making that Treasury Board directive public," he said. 

Wildrose Finance Critic Rob Anderson believes the new rules should be written into law. 

“If you’re going to have transparency, if you’re going to have accountability, things are going to all be done in public, above-board, it’s important to have these things in legislation.”

Anderson thinks the bill is a good first step but said the key is whether Premier Jim Prentice makes his government follow the new rules.

"Instead of looking for loopholes, will he instead do everything in his power to not allow for those loopholes?" 

Shortly after taking office in September, Premier Jim Prentice vowed to introduce a bill about increasing transparency and improving government ethics.

His predecessor, Alison Redford, was criticized by Auditor General Merwan Saher for excessive spending and for using government planes for personal purposes.

Redford stepped down as premier in March amid questions about her spending and leadership style.