'These are the issues that we need to talk about in an election,' premier tells reporters
Premier Alison Redford remains committed to calling an election immediately after the provincial budget is passed, in spite of multiple controversies that have hounded the governing Tories in recent weeks.
Speaking to reporters at a fundraising dinner in Airdrie on Saturday, Redford admitted she is concerned by a series of recent events that have cast the government in a negative light.
"There's a lot of those things going on right now, and there's no doubt they're troubling to me," Redford said. "There's no doubt that right before an election there's an awful lot of politics, but I'm not diminishing this as politics. These are the issues that we need to talk about in an election."
The most recent blow to the PCs came Friday, when Redford suspended former leadership candidate Gary Mar from his post as Alberta's envoy to Asia over a recent fundraiser held to clear up his debts from the campaign. The $400-per-ticket event held at the Edmonton Petroleum Club offered Mar in his capacity apparently as envoy speaking about doing business in Asia. Redford has asked the province's ethics commissioner to look into the situation.
On Saturday, Redford said it would be inappropriate for her to do anything further at this point, because Mar — like all government of Alberta employees — deserves to be treated with due process. But she said she was quite concerned to see that the original invitation to the Mar fundraiser referred to his position as a public servant. Redford's communications chief Jay O'Neill said in an interview Friday that there would be conflict-of-interest provisions in Mar's contract as envoy. There are also guidelines for senior civil servants.
"It's not appropriate, in my mind, for this type of action to take place," Redford said. "But it's not for me to decide that — it's for the ethics commissioner."
Leadership campaign financial documents released by the PC party on Friday showed Mar's campaign spent almost $2.7 million on the leadership race, racking up a $262,000 deficit. Mar could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Also on Friday, news broke that Redford herself was a member for several months on a controversial legislature committee that never actually met. The day before, Redford told the Herald that she was unaware that 21 government and opposition MLAs have been paid $1,000 a month — a total of $261,000 annually — to sit on a committee that hasn't met since 2008.
Redford said she herself never received any payment for her time on the committee, but acknowledged that Albertans are unhappy about the entire issue.
"I found out yesterday that I had been assigned to this committee," Redford said. "I didn't receive any pay for sitting on this committee, but the randomness of it is something that is very troubling to me and it should be troubling to Albertans."
Redford said she hopes the independent panel headed by former judge Jack Major that she appointed to look into the issue of MLA compensation will go a long way toward addressing the problem.
Redford added the very fact that she is taking steps to investigate both the Mar question and the issue of politicians' pay is proof of her commitment to accountability in government.
"I think it's important for us to think about this in terms of Albertans' trust in the institutions of government," Redford said. "That's always been my concern."
In an interview with the Herald on Friday, Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said the PCs' recent problems — everything from accusations of bullying school board officials and doctors to allegations the party took illegal donations from municipalities and other public bodies — are starting to resonate with the public.
The provincial budget is expected to be passed in the legislature before the end of the month. By law, a provincial election must be held before the end of May.
Calgary Herald, Sun Mar 11 2012
Byline: Amanda Stephenson