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Partisan use of government planes not touched in Alberta review, critics say

Opposition critics are questioning why an internal Alberta Justice review of government fleet aircraft misuse makes no reference to what they say is documented partisan use by several Conservative MLAs and cabinet ministers.

Opposition questions why only former premier Alison Redford singled out

Opposition politicians believe the Alberta Justice review singles out former premier Alison Redford without touching on the partisan use of government planes by Progressive Conservative MLAs.

Opposition critics are questioning why an internal Alberta Justice review of government fleet aircraft misuse makes no reference to what they say is documented partisan use by several Conservative MLAs and cabinet ministers.

“I think that this government and all PC MLAs who are culpable of this action need to be held to account,” Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson said.

Alberta Justice did not respond to an interview request.

On Tuesday, CBC News reported an Alberta Justice internal review concluded former premier Alison Redford could face four criminal charges if allegations contained in an auditor general’s report about her use of government airplanes are proven by an RCMP investigation.

Government documents, obtained exclusively by CBC News, show Justice Minister Jonathan Denis informed then interim-premier Dave Hancock of the conclusions of special prosecutor Sheila Brown.

Brown found the allegations, if proven, could result in charges of forgery, uttering a forged document, fraud, and breach of trust by a public officer.

The prosecutor based her conclusions on an audit conducted by Auditor General Merwan Saher into Redford’s use of government planes and the Air Transportation Service, which operates the government fleet.

That audit began after CBC revealed in April that Redford had flown her daughter on 50 government flights.

Fake passengers

Saher’s investigation also uncovered a scheme in which false passengers were block-booked on government flights so that Redford could fly alone with her entourage.

The documents obtained by CBC include an Aug. 4 email from Denis to Hancock’s chief of staff. In that email, Denis stresses Brown’s report was prepared “fully independently of any political direction.” In a public release later, Denis further stressed the independence of the legal review.

But the auditor general’s report refers to eight Conservative party fundraisers attended by Redford using government planes.

Several media outlets subsequently revealed that several Tory MLAs accompanied Redford on one of those eight partisan flights; a Northern Alberta leader’s dinner and fundraiser in Grande Prairie on Oct. 25, 2012.

The MLAs included cabinet ministers Wayne Drysdale, Cal Dallas and Fred Horne. Also on the flight were MLAs Ken Hughes, Christine Cusanelli, Everett McDonald, Wayne Cao and Donna Kennedy-Glans.

“We asked questions about this in the legislature and the government of the day was quite evasive,”  Wilson said.

“I believe (interim premier) Dave Hancock, when he was responding, was quite offended that we would even suggest that the PCs would be using those planes for partisan purposes.”

Ignored partisan flight

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman questions why the Alberta Justice review seemingly ignored the partisan Grande Prairie flight.

“I find that very curious because again, (the review) is just focused on one person (Redford) who is no longer here and for whom it is now okay to pile on,” Blakeman said.

Blakeman thinks the decision to request a review was political.

“I think they are just using (the legal opinion) as an excuse to pile on (Redford), and make themselves look like they were innocent of all of this,” she said.

“At this point, seeing as the former premier has resigned and left, the only thing I can see being of use to the (legislative) assembly or to the government is finding out very strategic, very straightforward changes they could make, structurally, so that this did not happen again.

“Piling on the previous premier, I just don’t think is a good use of taxpayer dollars at this point. I don’t know what else they expect to learn.”

Wilson dismissed Blakeman’s assessment.

“It is news,” he said. “It is unfortunate news but it shouldn’t stop people from understanding what the implications are. And it shouldn’t stop any of the processes of accountability.”

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