Previous Tory promise on expense claims still in limbo

New rules around provincial expense claims wouldn't be needed if the government acted on a 2009 promise that was never delivered, documents show.
Premier Alison Redford’s recent promise of increased accountability and transparency for expense-claim spending wouldn’t be necessary if her government made good on a previous promise, documents uncovered by CBC show. 3:09

Premier Alison Redford’s recent promise of increased accountability and transparency for expense-claim spending wouldn’t be necessary if her government made good on a previous promise, documents uncovered by CBC show.

NDP leader Brian Mason says the province has had the tools to increase accountability on expense claims for some time. (CBC News)

The government of former-Premier Ed Stelmach produced legislation in 2009 – the Alberta Public Agencies Act - that would have tightened control over expense-claim spending while also increasing accountability and transparency.

But it was never passed into law.

"They had legislation in place nearly three years ago that would have allowed them to deal with a situation, for example, like the Merali case," New Democrat Leader Brian Mason said.

Last month, CBC revealed that former Alberta Health Services chief financial officer Allaudin Merali had claimed nearly $350,000 in expenses, including lavish restaurant meals, expensive wine, and repairs for his Mercedes-Benz vehicle.

Merali was fired and former Capital Health chief executive officer, Sheila Weatherill, who had signed off on Merali’s expenses, resigned from the board of Alberta Health Services.

An external audit has also been ordered.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation released documents which revealed that Doug Black, chairman of the University of Calgary’s board of governors, spent $28,000 in 18 months on first-class flights, high-end hotels and limos.

On Wednesday, Redford, flanked by her caucus, held a news conference in Calgary at which she announced all expenses filed by all government ministers, MLAs, and hundreds of senior bureaucrats would be posted online bi-monthly.

 Act never put into force

While Redford said she expected boards and agencies to comply with these new regulations, it remains voluntary.

"About half of Alberta's public expenditures go through various boards and commissions so they're not under the control of the legislature or of the cabinet even," Mason said. "But they are appointed patronage boards."

CBC showed the documents to Scott Hennig of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

"They show the government already had this type of legislation in place, they just had to proclaim it," he said. "And force a lot of these other agencies, boards and commissions to get onside."

The act flowed from a 2007 task-force report commissioned by Stelmach’s government. The 75-page report, called "At a Crossroads," provided detailed recommendations on improving governance of agencies and boards, including the current Alberta Health Services. Fred Horne, who was then an MLA, shepherded legislation through the Legislature that was based on the report.

"It's important to have legislation in place, reflecting the government's commitment to the principles of transparency and accountability," Horne said in a March 18, 2009 news release.

But in May 2012, the Agency Governance Secretariat, which is supposed to help departments and agencies navigate the improved governance practices, said the act had not been "proclaimed as the Government would like departments and agencies to have more time to … experience the implications and benefits prior to proclamation."