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Prentice to introduce 'Accountability Act' to restore faith in government

Premier Jim Prentice has announced he will introduce an "Accountability Act" to the Alberta Legislature when it resumes in November.

Act will hold government officials to highest standards of behaviour, says Prentice

“Anyone who wishes to be part of this government going forward, and anyone who wishes to be part of my team, will be held to the highest possible standards of public service,” said Prentice on Wednesday. (CBC)

Premier Jim Prentice has announced he will introduce an "Accountability Act" to the Alberta Legislature when sessions resume in November. 

The act will include clear guidelines regarding conflicts of interest for all political staff and senior civil servants, he said.

“I intend to restore the people’s trust in government and I will endeavour to show to Albertans that they deserve our faith and our confidence, and illustrate that we can wisely exercise the authority that has been given to us to work with them to shape this province’s future for our children and for our grandchildren,” Prentice said Wednesday.

“Anyone who wishes to be part of this government going forward, and anyone who wishes to be part of my team, will be held to the highest possible standards of public service.”

Prentice said the motivation behind the act was the many frustrated Albertans he met this summer during his travels as he campaigned for PC leadership.

He said his first step will be to start discussions with the legislative assembly, the official Opposition and the province’s ethics commissioner to draft the Act, which will create the necessary conditions to ensure the highest ethical standards are followed across all levels of government.

“The legislation that will ultimately be introduced in November will result in changes to the Lobbyist Act, the Conflict of Interest Act, to the Public Service Act, to the Financial Administration Act and ultimately to treasury board policies as well.”

“As your premier, I will oversee the implementation of these new rules and I will enforce them with vigour and with discipline.”

An end to conflicts of interest and ‘sweetheart’ deals, says Prentice

The announcement comes one week after Prentice appointed three people to key positions, including two former Conservative MP’s who previously worked with the premier.

Prentice defends the appointments of Rob Merrifield and Jay Hill, saying they are the best people for the jobs. However, NDP leader Brian Mason remains skeptical.

“Openness and transparency go back to Klein, then Stelmach and Redford,” he said. “It’s become a meaningless phrase with this government.”

Prentice also said his government would be working closely with the province's auditor general to monitor spending and savings and a return to consolidated financial reporting.

Report cards on savings will be tabled twice a year in the legislative assembly so that Albertans will be aware of the province’s financial successes, he promised.

“Albertans have a right to know how their government is performing, how it’s measured against the commitments its made during the budgeting process,” he said. They also have a right to know how we are dealing with our various saving accounts.”

Prentice also said work had begun in ending government entitlement, noting "sweetheart" severance packages will no longer be offered. In the past, the generous severance packages have been applied no matter how their employment was terminated, he said. This will now change.

“No one will profit from a job that they have held for just a short period of time.”

In the future, severance packages will only be paid when an employee has been terminated without cause and will be will be consistent with public sector standards, he said.

Prentice also identified three other priorities for his government:

  • Extend the cooling off period for elected officials, political staff and senior civil servants
  • Eliminate sole-source contracts – all contracts will be through a competitive bid process, or in extreme circumstances, a selection will be made from a pre-qualified vendor list
  • Introduce clear rules to enforce the distinction between registered lobbyists and government consultants

Announcement follows week of reversals

When he was sworn in as Alberta's 16th premier on September 16, Prentice said Alberta was "under new management."

In the weeks since, he has shaken up cabinet, announced plans to sell Alberta's controversial fleet of government planes, scrapped the former government's plan to redesign Alberta's licence plates and stopped the closure of Red Deer's Michener Centre. 

Prentice said Albertans should expect to see even more staffing changes as he continues his review of existing government roles.

“Going forward, hiring in government will be grounded on merit rather than on political conditions.” he said.

“We need to make sure that the people who are appointed are appointed because they are the Albertan for the job.” 

On Tuesday, he announced a review of health care in rural Alberta, saying the focus will be on timely access to health care, an evaluation of specialist services in rural areas and recruiting health professionals.

One decision he will not reverse, however, is the plan to continue construction on former premier Alison Redford's luxury suite in Edmonton.  

Prentice said the most cost effective course at this point would be just to continue that plan.

“I don’t think the taxpayers of Alberta want to see any more costs incurred,” he said last week.

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