WATCH ABOVE: Another cabinet minister is in hot water over the use of government aircraft. As Tom Vernon explains, the Wildrose party is calling for his resignation.
CALGARY – The Opposition Wildrose party is calling on Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner to resign and to pay the cost of flying family members on government aircraft.
Lukaszuk defends taking daughter on government flights
Alberta PC government has faced years of criticism for its aircraft fleet
“The man in charge of making sure that the government airfleet was being used properly and within the rules is just as guilty as his cabinet colleagues in abusing the fleet,” Wildrose finance critic Rob Anderson told a news conference Tuesday.
“In fact, he is more guilty than almost anyone of his cabinet colleagues.
“Not only was Mr. Horner turning a blind eye to the abuses of (former) premier (Alison) Redford and other colleagues, he was actively taking part in abusing the government fleet.”
Anderson’s comments followed a CBC report that said a review of government flight logs showed that Horner took his wife with him on government aircraft at least 23 times dating back to 2007.
Horner was not available for comment. But his office sent out an email detailing 11 round-trip flights taken by Horner’s wife since 2007 to ceremonial events such as the funerals of former premiers Peter Lougheed and Ralph Klein.
Horner was within the rules, said the email, noting that “the legislative assembly entitles all MLAs to claim four flights for their spouses each year, which speaks to the expectation that spouses attend events with elected officials.”
The PC government has been under fire for almost all of 2014 over revelations of entitlement and abuse of taxpayer-funded political perks such as government planes.
Last month, Alberta’s auditor general released a report saying Redford and her staff used the power of the province’s top political office to break expense rules and inappropriately use taxpayer money, in some cases for personal gain.
Merwan Saher took particular issue with the way Redford used the province’s fleet to ferry her — and, in many cases, her daughter — to events that included Progressive Conservative party fundraisers and personal trips.
Redford quit as premier in March ahead of a caucus revolt over her expenses and amid plummeting popularity numbers.
The travel issue has attached itself to the PC party’s leadership race, with the first vote set for Saturday.
Horner has been doing logistical work for candidate Jim Prentice. Anderson suggested that given the new information, Prentice needs to disassociate Horner from the campaign.
“It’s brutal. He needs to resign. And, Mr. Prentice, how you can keep Mr. Horner as a centrepiece of your leadership campaign is a great, unsolved mystery,” said Anderson.
Prentice, in an interview, dismissed the Wildrose demand, saying, “I’m not going to respond to (Wildrose Leader) Danielle Smith’s anger.”
Prentice has already promised to revisit and tighten up the rules for flights.
The CBC report also said Tory leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk took his eldest daughter with him on seven flights between 2007 and 2012.
Lukaszuk says he has repaid the government for the three return-trip flights, noting they were not for personal use.
It’s the second time in a week he has been targeted through anonymous leaks to the media. Last week, the Edmonton Sun reported that Lukaszuk had run up a $20,000 cellphone bill while on vacation in Poland in 2012 when he was asked to handle a volatile domestic dispute involving a cabinet colleague.
Lukaszuk said the leaks reek of “gutter politics” and urged the stealth leakers to confront him openly.
The leaks smears the entire profession and Albertans are sick of it, he suggested.
“I don’t imagine that there are any parents dropping their kids off at high school today and saying, ‘When you graduate, one thing I want you to consider is becoming a politician one day,’ when you read garbage like this on the front pages of newspapers.”
A spokesman for leadership candidate Ric McIver declined to comment on the issue, saying McIver remains focused on keeping his expenses — and the expenses of those who report to him — so clean that, they’re “boring.”
— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton