EDMONTON — The Opposition in Alberta is demanding multiple spending investigations, including a review by the auditor general into travel expenses in Premier Jason Kenney’s office in light of several trips to London by his top adviser.
NDP ethics critic Heather Sweet says it’s time the auditor review whether Kenney’s office is following rules for authorizing such travel, and whether such trips are getting value for the money spent.
The NDP has revealed that David Knight Legg, the premier’s principal adviser, has in recent months made four trips to London at a total cost of almost $19,000.
“It’s expensive. It’s exorbitant. And he’s staying in five-star hotels in London with champagne bars. He’s not looking out for the best interests of Albertans,” Sweet said Thursday.
“We’re asking the auditor general to hold this premier to account to make sure that any public dollar he is using is having a good return for Albertans, and (the process) is open and it’s transparent.”
Kenney’s office said Knight Legg has been working to attract investment in areas that include energy and high tech, and his expenses are reasonable given the high cost of staying in London.
The office declined to give details of the meetings, citing corporate confidences and the possibility that doing so might tip off opponents of Alberta’s energy industry.
Sweet said more information is needed to justify Knight Legg’s spending, which totals $45,000 since he was hired in May at an annual salary of $194,000.
She is also asking the auditor general to review Kenney’s so-called energy war room. Sweet said there’s increasing overlap between the separate, privately incorporated agency and Kenney’s office.
The war room, formally named the Canadian Energy Centre, is to begin work next month. It has a mandate to counter perceived misinformation spread by what Kenney has said are opponents of Alberta’s energy industry.
Sweet noted that the mandate echoes the reason Kenney’s office has given to withhold information on Knight Legg’s trips and that raises questions on possible ties between the two.
Kenney spokesman Harrison Fleming said there is no link.
“Today’s latest stunt by the NDP again shows that they do not take defending our province seriously.”
Earlier this month, the NDP released documents showing that Kenney flew himself, some other premiers and their spouses from Calgary to Saskatoon last summer for a premiers meeting. The private charter cost $16,000.
Kenney called it a justifiable relationship-building gesture.
The NDP is also asking the ethics commissioner to determine if conflict-of-interest rules were broken in an ongoing $2.5-million public inquiry into foreign funding of special interest groups protesting Alberta’s oil and gas industry.
Government documents show that inquiry, headed by commissioner Steve Allan, has hired Calgary-based Dentons law firm at a cost of $905,000. One of the Dentons partners is Allan’s son, Toby Allan.
Dentons is also the former employer for Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer.
Schweitzer’s spokesman, Jonah Mozeson, said they have not been advised of any conflict of interest and that Toby Allan is a lawyer in a different department and is not involved with the inquiry’s contract.
He said there is nothing to suggest the public service is not following proper procedures.
Sweet dismissed that as legal hair-splitting.
“He (Toby Allan) is a partner in this firm, which means he gets any type of financial benefit from any contracts or services that are provided on behalf of this firm,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2019.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press