PC leadership contender Ric McIver challenged on Skypalace claims

Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver did not “kill” construction of former premier Alison Redford’s so-called Skypalace, despite his repeated claims during his campaign.

Former Infrastructure minister continues to claim he cancelled Alison Redford's penthouse

Former transportation minister Ric McIver announced on May 7 that he was joining the PC leadership race to replace Alison Redford (CBC)

Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver did not “kill” construction of former premier Alison Redford’s so-called Skypalace, despite his repeated claims during his campaign.

In fact, if former premier Alison Redford moved into the penthouse suite in the refurbished provincial Federal Building upon its completion, she would be living in the same physical space she personally ordered in May 2012, just a month after the last provincial election.

A chronology of events assembled by CBC News shows McIver, the former Infrastructure minister, appears to have changed his story repeatedly since CBC News first revealed on March 28 that Redford had personally ordered a penthouse suite on the top floor of the 11-story building near the legislature in Edmonton.

McIver has repeatedly stated he changed “residential construction” on the premier’s suite to “meeting room construction.” On Tuesday, he effectively said he only changed the furnishings.

“I killed the Skypalace by converting it from a residence to a meeting space in the most cost-effective manner possible,” McIver said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

“This meant eliminating residential components that had not been constructed such as numerous, high-end residential furnishing and decoration expenditures built to the standard of the ultra-posh Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington D.C.”

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said, “I think this shows no one is telling the truth about what is happening with the construction of the Skypalace.

“I think the only credible story we have is that of the auditor general,” she said. “The auditor general has made it absolutely clear that it was not a project that was cancelled.”

Construction continues

In a report released Aug. 7, Auditor General Merwan Saher confirmed the penthouse ordered by Redford has continued to be built with the same layout and finishing she originally ordered. The only change, the auditor general found, is the rooms will now serve as meeting rooms and will contain office furniture rather than residential furniture.

In his report released Aug. 7, Alberta's Auditor General Merwan Saher found that the penthouse suite continued to be built with the same layout and finishings. (CBC)

Saher also found the city had issued a residential permit for the penthouse. Tuesday, an Infrastructure spokeswoman said it was only an application for a residential permit.

The permit application was withdrawn Aug. 19, the same day acting premier Dave Hancock and Finance Minister Doug Horner answered questions for the first time from reporters about abuse of government flights by Redford, and the penthouse.

Despite the auditor general’s findings, McIver continues to claim he alone had the courage to speak out and kill Skypalace back in mid-January. He made this claim just hours after Saher released his report on Aug. 7.

“I started fixing the rot at the top before the leadership race started,” McIver said.

“The fact that I killed (the Skypalace) in January is an important point that I stand by, as an example of someone who will do the right thing, even at personal risk,” he said. “Because I think anybody would say - lots of people have said - it is amazing I didn’t lose my minister’s position over it.

“But I did it knowing that risk was there because it was the right thing to do. And I think that is the type of leadership and frankly credibility that Albertans are looking for in the next premier.”

Changing narrative

But McIver’s own statements reveal a changing narrative.

On March 18, reporters asked McIver if there was a residential suite in the Federal Building. He said only that there is not, and that there will not be a residential space.

Alison Redford resigned as the MLA for Calgary Elbow on Aug. 6, one day before Merwan Saher released his report. She stepped down as PC party leader and Alberta premier in March. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

He did not admit there had been a residential suite and he did not state that he cancelled Skypalace.

On March 27, CBC News received documents through freedom of information which revealed Redford had personally ordered a penthouse suite in the Federal Building. In an interview with CBC, McIver insisted there was no story because nothing had been built. He also said he had no idea what was actually being built or and he would not say who it was for.

“I’m telling you, the best I got was rumours and speculation,” McIver said. “And I just said that regardless of what the rumours said, there was going to be no residential there.”

Asked on March 28 if the suite was for the premier, McIver told reporters in Calgary: “Listen, I work in a government building. There are rumours every day. Some of them are even true.”

New Democrat MLA Deron Bilous said McIver’s recent claims that he courageously risked his ministerial position by killing Skypalace don’t appear to jibe with his earlier statements.

“You can’t kill something that never existed,” Bilous said, adding later that, “the reality is that this claim is absurd when you look at the series of events, what the CBC has uncovered, what the auditor general has uncovered.”

McIver, on Aug. 7, also said his claim that he killed Skypalace is “well documented” and “well proven.” The auditor general, however, found no documentation that showed McIver cancelled Skypalace construction in January.

To the contrary, the auditor general’s report states that Infrastructure’s “executive director told us that the layout and finishing of the 11th floor is based on the June 2013 tendering documents.” Those tendering documents are based on Redford’s original plan for the 11th floor from June 2012.

Saher noted twice in his report that Infrastructure has still not priced out the total cost of the premier’s suite. CBC News repeatedly asked the department to do so.

But in an email, Sharon Lopatka, Infrastructure’s director of communications, said the department cannot isolate the cost of the Federal Building renovations on a floor-by-floor basis.

Lopatka also twice refused a request for a tour of the 10th and 11th floors, despite the fact Infrastructure arranged a media tour within hours of CBC News’ publication of the original Skypalace story on March 28.

That same day, and during the many media interviews that followed, McIver made no public statements about risking his ministerial portfolio by standing up to Redford and killing Skypalace.

Skypalace politicized

But that changed when McIver joined the Conservative leadership race in early May. Since then, he has repeatedly claimed he, and he alone, killed Skypalace.

As proof, he has relied on a memo produced by Infrastructure deputy minister Marcia Nelson on May 5, 2014, more than a month after CBC News broke the story about Skypalace.

But the memo appears inconclusive. Nelson writes the memo is to confirm, based on McIver’s direction on Jan. 14, that there “will be no further work related to residential occupancy on the 11th floor of the Federal Building.” But it does not state there had been no further work since that point in time, Jan. 14, 2014.

As the auditor general found, the construction work on the residential suite continues.

McIver had the Nelson memo, dated May 5, 2014, tabled in the legislature on May 6, the same day he resigned to run for the Tory leadership. He announced his candidacy May 7.

Infrastructure spokesperson Sharon Lopatka said Nelson was unavailable for an interview. In an email, Lopatka confirmed McIver requested the memo but when Nelson provided it she did not know McIver was planning to run for the Tory leadership.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said she believes McIver ordered the memo and tabled it for political reasons.

“We suggested that McIver was only doing this because he wanted to have something to run on in his leadership bid and I think that it has come out that that is exactly the case,” Smith said. “It is like he didn’t even read the auditor general’s report. He is still bragging about killing the Skypalace when the auditor general said quite clearly that he didn’t.”

New Democrat Deron Bilous said there needs to be more investigation.

“The only way that we’re going to get to the bottom of this is if these people are forced to testify under oath,” he said. “Otherwise we’re going to continue to get the runaround.”

Read the full chronology of events: