Redford’s lonely planet: a look at the job of the former premier’s travel scout
EDMONTON — Alison Redford travelled the globe when she was Alberta’s premier and so did her travel scout, forwarding photos of hotels and suites, sussing out suitable patios and restaurants and at least once advising on public toilets.
Michelle Tetreault went to such locales as China, India, Switzerland, London and Washington in the 20 months she held the position that International Relations Minister Cal Dallas said didn’t exist before Redford came to power.
The Canadian Press obtained nearly 1,600 pages of Tetreault’s emails through the Freedom of Information Act. Although many portions were blanked out, the documents provide a glimpse into the mysterious job.
Tetreault travelled to most locations months before the former premier, often flying business class. Government staff are allowed to fly business class on international trips longer than four hours as long as it is pre-approved.
Tetreault travelled to China in June 2012 before Redford’s trade mission the following September. She compiled photos, including one of a “traditional Chinese restaurant” and another location where Redford and her staff could have steak and eggs for breakfast because “the owner sells Alberta beef.”
Tetreault also set out a list of China travel tips for staff: it’s custom not to place a purse or briefcase on the floor, and remember “public toilets are all crouch only.”
She went to India at the end of 2013 in advance of Redford’s trade mission and networking last January.
In tips Tetreault later sent to staff, some of it referenced from travel books, she included advice on shopping for souvenirs, when women should wear head scarves and historical background on the Taj Mahal.
Weather was also noted. In New Delhi, she reported, “mornings will likely consist of heavy fog until 9:30 a.m. A light jacket may be required.”
Tetreault got the job shortly after Redford and the Progressive Conservatives won the 2012 election. A provincial directory lists her salary as $127,827 the following year.
Last March, shortly after Redford quit as premier due to growing criticism over her harsh leadership style and lavish spending, Tetreault’s position was cancelled. She was reassigned within government.
Redford left politics for good last week when she resigned her seat as a Calgary backbencher, just one day before a scathing auditor general’s report was released detailing her misuse of government planes and travel expenses.
When questioned about the travel scout job back in June, Dallas said Redford asked that the position be created to meet “her specific needs.” Before then, the organization of premiers’ trips was done in Alberta or by officials who worked in the province’s satellite offices or by those who happened to be travelling in the locations.
A government spokesman said Tetreault could not comment on the job or her trips. She didn’t respond to an email request for comment.
When Redford resigned her seat last week, she admitted in a letter that mistakes were made during her time as premier. She said she would be offering no further explanation.
Documents released in June show Tetreault’s expenses totalled almost $330,000 from spring 2012 to January 2014.
It wasn’t all recon work.
She also travelled with the premier and her staff on the scheduled tours, arranged rental vehicles, airport pickups and luggage delivery and handling all of the group’s passports.
She made sure Alberta flags were always set up at public functions and, at least once, arranged for golf carts to ferry the premier and staff around a venue.
The costs of having Tetreault, other staff and security guards travel with Redford were not typically part of publicly disclosed expenses for the premier’s trips.
The auditor general found, for instance, that the former premier’s trip to India with a stop at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland earlier this year, cost $450,000 instead of the previously reported $131,000.
The emails show Tetreault spent $21,699 to travel to India in advance, then $28,440 to join Redford on the India/Switzerland tour.
It also cost her $12,979 to travel to China in 2013, then $25,685 for her to travel with the premier.
Other duties of the job included helping plan itineraries and photo ops.
At one Sikh temple in India, Tetreault arranged for the premier to serve lunger or lentils in its free kitchen, since 25 per cent of the country’s crop comes from Alberta.
“Some tidbits from india thus far,” Tetreault wrote in an email to staff back home on Nov. 29, 2013. “Wait until I get Premier serving Lungar to the crowd. That will be a good photo op!!! Namaste.”
She further discussed picking out food baskets and gifts for dignitaries.
“Getting some intel on India gifting. I think ammonite will work here. I know it may not be premier’s favourite but gemstones are very popular.”
Some of Redford’s security detail also went on a few advance trips to ensure hotels and travel routes would be safe. There was no explanation in the documents as to what dangers Redford faced.
Tetreault indicated her role also included keeping Redford safe.
“For security purposes, I do need to arrive ahead of premier,” she wrote in an email regarding the 2013 trip to China.
During Tetreault’s first trip to the country in 2012, there is an email exchange with Redford’s assistant, Ryan Barberio, discussing ground transportation. Barberio questioned why there was to be an embassy staffer taking a spot in the premier’s vehicle.
“I would like to ride with Premier on pretty much every trip,” he said.
Tetreault replied that the employee, Josephine, was required to help translate for the driver.
“We can instruct Josephine not to speak to the premier etc., but she needs to be in the car,” wrote Tetreault. “As well, she can provide some tourist information as you drive by specific landmarks.”
Most of Tetreault’s meal costs were between $15 and $30, although one email included a copy of a receipt from the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi on Jan. 12. A table of seven people ate dinner for about $400. Later that night, there was an alcohol bill for $800, listing Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine, 10-year-old Talisker whiskey and Bombay Sapphire gin.
Three days later, Tetreault had the emergency limit on her expense account increased to $50,000.
A government spokesman later confirmed the alcohol was paid for as a personal expense and taxpayer dollars were not used.
The documents further detail travels for Tetreault and Redford in Canada and Alberta. Not all of the accommodations were five-star.
In an email, one staffer asked if she should book any rooms for the premier’s trip to Waterton Lakes National Park in southwestern Alberta in August 2013.
Tetreault replied that Redford didn’t require a hotel.
“She will camp.”