CBC editorial board with Thomas Lukaszuk
PC leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk spoke with the CBC editorial board on Aug. 25, 2014. Here are some excerpts from the nearly hour-long interview.
On holding premiers accountable
The report into former premier Alison Redford’s expenses by Alberta Auditor General Merwan Saher showed the government worked around or ignored rules, and that government planes were booked in a way “that avoided leaving the premier with personal responsibility.”
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Jim Prentice, the third candidate in the PC leadership race, declined to take part in an editorial board with CBC News.
Lukaszuk says the premier must be held accountable and the best way to do that is to make the premier’s expenses and activities public on a regular basis.
“The first thing that has to happen is that there has to be an independent officer that in real time reviews the activities of the premier’s office and reports them, be it quarterly or monthly, on a web page where the premier goes, what the premier does, and what the premier’s expenses are. Because right now, it’s a bit of a mystery.”
“Just the fact that whatever you do is reported publicly will I imagine change the behaviour of the office and remove it from this shelter that it has right now.”
On Redford's activities
Many have questioned Lukaszuk’s time as deputy premier, saying he had to have been aware of Redford's spending habits as documented by the auditor general. But he told CBC that he had no idea what was going on in the premier’s office.
“I have no issue admitting to the fact that I did not know what was going on in the premier’s office, but frankly, no one knew what was going on in the premier’s office. The auditor general didn’t know what was going on in the premier’s office until he did a focused audit on the premier’s office.”
“With the last premier, and you remember stories written by media that the office was not accessible. Nobody met the chief of staff, the office really secluded itself from the rest of the world. When you’re the top elected official, you’re the CEO of a corporation, you don’t report to anybody in this government system. And that is one thing that has to change.”
On the 'Skypalace'
In his report, the auditor general found the luxury penthouse that was commissioned by Redford is still being built. CBC News asked Lukaszuk if he knew about the premier’s special project before CBC broke the story in March. He said he did not know, and believes the auditor general should do a wider audit to get to the bottom of who knew about the project.
“I certainly hope that there will be some form of investigation sooner or later that will allow individuals who should have known explain whether they have or why they didn’t know."
“I can tell you that I wasn’t aware of that. I knew that we were renovating the building as a matter of fact, that was a source of frustration because it’s over budget, over time, for a long, long time. But the fact that there was an actual residence being built, I honestly don’t imagine that anyone in caucus would have known.”
“That is why I firmly believe that auditor general has to do a wider audit. And I was very clear. If the auditor general finds anything that in anyway resembles abuse of power or any form of illegal activities, those files need to be transferred to a law enforcement agency.”
On false passengers
The auditor general found that Redford used taxpayer money “inappropriately” during her time as Alberta premier, with planes being used for personal and partisan purposes. CBC News asked Lukaszuk to what extent he knew about the findings in the report.
“I can tell you that I just found out recently and I demanded that the manifest be corrected. I just found out that my name was put onto manifests of flights on which I couldn’t have possibly physically been on.”
“You know, that is why I got so upset. I dread the thought of God forbid, one of those aircrafts crashing and my family receiving a phone call that I was in an airplane crash while I’m having dinner and I’m meeting with the mayor of Medicine Hat. That’s just unthinkable.”
On government aircraft
When it comes to the fleet of government airplanes, Lukaszuk said he would wait for the auditor general to finish a feasibility study before making a decision. However, he is leaning towards getting rid of them.
“I believe it is very much possible to carry out our duties without having those aircrafts. And when need arises, because there are communities in Alberta that you can’t access with a vehicle. Airplanes can be chartered.”
“I have a lot of faith in the auditor general’s office. He is doing an audit right now, a feasibility study, whether it would be riser for Albertans to keep one or two or just get rid of them. I would definitely take a look at that report but frankly, my preference would be getting rid of them.”
On Redford's 'aura of power'
In the scathing report into Redford’s travel expenses, Auditor General Merwan Saher said there was an “aura of power around Premier Redford and her office and the perception that the influence of the office should not be questioned.”
Lukaszuk said it wasn’t a reflection of the government and that it was the personality of the premier and the people around her.
"The fact is, this was an aura of personality. I have to tell you, it wasn’t lost on anyone that Premier Redford and I had our moments and as you know I was demoted from the position of deputy premier. I made the statements that the government lost its moral authority to govern, as you recall I was the first one to say that, a very unpopular thing to say at that point in time. But it had to be said.”
“Premier Redford definitely was running what I would call a very closed shop. She wasn’t very accessible very much to cabinet, caucus and was carrying out her duties in isolation.”
On his time as Redford's deputy premier
Lukaszuk said although it was a difficult position that faced a lot of negativity, he would do it all over again if he could.
“Did I regret it? No, because that was a job that was assigned. It gave me an opportunity to learn a lot about every portfolio and it gave me the ability to deal with the most difficult situations in government… you were sort of the hazmat team that would come in and deal with the most difficult issues on on every file. It was a great learning experience but you know it's been the longest a two years of my life without a doubt because you're dealing only with negativity.”
On filling Redford's MLA seat
Lukaszuk doesn’t plan on waiting to replace Alison Redford as MLA in Calgary-Elbow. He also added that he would not be calling an election anytime soon.
“Right away. That needs to be dealt with. A lot of this needs to be dealt with the right away.”
“I will not call a snap election because that would be simply breaking a promise. I think Albertans fought long and hard to get set election dates and there was a unanimous vote in the house to have set election dates.”
On what he brings to the table
Lukaszuk said a lot of it comes down to experience.
“You have to understand how Albertans will respond to things. You have to be an Albertan. And I’m not suggesting that the other candidates aren’t but you really would have to be immersed. It would be very difficult for me to run for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party or liberal party right now, not having been there, not having lived Ottawa, not knowing intuitively all the issues that are on the hill.”
“I'm proud of the fact that I was elected in this province for thirteen years and that I served Albertans. I'm proud of the fact that I managed to achieve a number of files what I set out to achieve. I'm proud of the fact that I have the experience.”