Alberta premier defends adviser’s trips to London, says aide often puts up cash

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says a top adviser’s four recent trips to London were made to promote the province and the globally recognized business leader often kicks in his own cash.

“This is a guy who actually, I know personally, has spent thousands of dollars of his own money hosting international business leaders without expensing that to the government of Alberta,” Kenney said Friday.

The premier was responding to criticism from the Opposition New Democrats, who reported earlier this week that David Knight Legg’s London trips cost taxpayers almost $19,000, including hotel stays and travel.

The government says Knight Legg has been working to advance Alberta’s economy on everything from energy to high-tech. But the province has offered no details, citing professional confidences and concern that Knight Legg’s contacts could be targeted by anti-energy industry groups.

Kenney, who is heading to Texas next week and London next month, said his government is cutting back where it can, but he and his officials will continue to travel to boost business.

“It costs a little bit of money, but let’s look at the cost benefit here,” he said following a speech to the Rural Municipalities of Alberta.

“If this is able to help us bring hundreds of millions or billions of dollars of job-creating investment (to) Alberta, it’s an obligation to do that.”

The NDP has asked the auditor general to investigate. The Opposition says it’s important to make sure that Kenney’s office is following travel rules and that taxpayers are getting value for money.

NDP ethics critic Heather Sweet has said more information is needed to justify Knight Legg’s spending, which has totalled $45,000 since he was hired in May at an annual salary of $194,000.

It’s part of a troubling trend of questionable spending by Kenney’s government that has brought in an austerity budget, the NDP says.

Earlier this month, the party 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 had also asked the ethics commissioner to look into whether 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.

The inquiry, headed by commissioner Steve Allan, has hired Calgary-based Dentons law firm at a cost of $905,000. Allan’s son, Toby Allan, is a partner in Dentons.

Sweet said Friday that Steve Allan’s contract is written in such a way that a final determination on any conflict of interest rests with the senior civil servant in the Energy Department. The ethics commissioner has no jurisdiction.

“(The contract) has created loopholes that this government will not allow any of the independent officers (of the legislature) to be able to look into it,” said Sweet.

She said she has written to the Energy Department to determine if it did its due diligence to ensure Steve Allan is not in a conflict of interest.

Asked about the contract, Kenney said: ”I’m advised by the public service that there is no conflict (of interest) here.

“I would just point out the law firm in question is, I think, one of the largest law firms in the world, with 10,000 lawyers, so it’s not like it’s a little family firm.

“And these firms have ways of creating firewalls to avoid any potential conflicts.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2019.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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