Alison Redford's planned penthouse could have cost millions

Change orders detailed in documents obtained by CBC News through a freedom of information request show the luxury penthouse “premier’s suite” would have potentially cost several hundred thousand dollars, if not millions.

Documents reveal construction, decorating expenses

During her time as Alberta premier, Alison Redford ordered a luxury penthouse 'premier's suite' to be built in the provincially owned Federal Building. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Former Alberta premier Alison Redford truly was planning a "skypalace" at taxpayer expense.

Change orders detailed in documents obtained by CBC News through a freedom of information request show the luxury penthouse "premier's suite" would have potentially cost several hundred thousand dollars, if not millions.

An Aug. 2, 2013, change order states it would cost more than $126,000 for "11th floor construction."

Decor items listed include $45,000 drapes, $43,000 stone and porcelain floor and wall tiles, and nearly $26,000 for painting and vinyl wall coverings.

Changes to "dressing rooms" for Redford and her daughter were to have cost more than $14,000.

On Thursday, the Opposition Wildrose Party also released documents obtained through freedom of information, which it claims show the penthouse cost more than $2 million. But when questioned, a party official admitted the estimate included costs assigned to other floors of the building and other costs that could not be confirmed.

It is not possible from the documents obtained either by CBC News or the Wildrose Party to know exactly how much the premier's penthouse has cost taxpayers, or would have cost taxpayers if it had been completed as planned.

Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle said that of the $2 million the party says was spent on the penthouse generally, "we have been able to identify more than $760,000 in luxury upgrades to take the 11th floor from basic meeting space to the Skypalace, two-bedroom penthouse."

Infrastructure, the department responsible for the building, has repeatedly stated it can't determine the cost of Redford's planned suite, a claim disputed by Alberta's auditor general. The department and its current minister, Wayne Drysdale, have also refused repeated requests from CBC News for a tour of the penthouse space.

On March 28, CBC News first revealed Redford had secretly ordered herself a luxury penthouse on the top floor of the provincially owned Federal Building now under renovation in Edmonton.

Personal penthouse

Documents obtained by CBC News through freedom of information in March showed Redford's executive assistant, Ryan Barberio, personally ordered changes to the building's floor plan through emails forwarded to the project director in charge of refurbishing the Federal Building.

The project director, Barbara Shipman, received the architect's fee proposal for its plans to "design the 11th floor space suitable for Senior Government and VIP functions."

The design included 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.

During the Wildrose press conference Thursday, Towle said "the changes were ordered to reflect the style of the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C., a five-star luxury hotel with suites that start at $1,200 a night."

Both former infrastructure ministers Wayne Drysdale and Rick McIver claimed they cancelled the premier's penthouse suite. But the documents obtained by CBC News and the Wildrose and a review by Alberta's auditor general show construction of the space continued as planned, although the expensive furniture has apparently been cancelled.

Towle targets ministers

Drysdale and McIver are now members of Premier Jim Prentice's cabinet, a cabinet Prentice has repeatedly claimed reflects his promise that the government is now "under new management." Towle took direct aim at Prentice's decision to keep the pair in cabinet.

"Premier Jim Prentice has been careful not to wade into this issue," she told reporters. "It is easy to see why.

"The premier has two ministers directly responsible for this fiasco in his inner circle and his cabinet. The same two ministers who swear they both killed the skypalace. Wayne Drysdale and Ric McIver are responsible for every single one of these ridiculous upgrades."

On Thursday afternoon, current Infrastructure Minister Manmeet Bhullar issued a release in which he claimed the penthouse cost only $240,000. On May 29, former Infrastructure Deputy Minister Marcia Nelson told the Public Accounts committee it was not possible to price out the Redford suite because many of the utilities would be used for the boardrooms now occupying the space. 

Towle said change orders show the building, which will house offices for members of the legislature, is now $70 million over budget.

"That is enough to build six new elementary schools," she said, referring to a chronic shortage of new schools in the province, which Prentice promised he will address by building 55 new schools and modernizing another 20 over the next four years.


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