An outside view of former premier Alison Redford's so-called 'Sky Palace' in Edmonton is shown on Jan. 26, 2016. Premier Jason Kenney's office confirms he is working out of the penthouse, calling it the best and safest solution due to legislature renovations. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Amber Bracken

Alberta premier working in politically toxic ‘Sky Palace’ due to legislature renos

Alberta premier working in politically toxic ‘Sky Palace’ due to legislature renos

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s office has confirmed he is working out of a penthouse known infamously as the “Sky Palace” because of exterior renovations at the legislature.

Christine Myatt, the premier’s spokeswoman, says the temporary move to the Federal Building is the best and safest solution and was announced in August. She said existing furniture is being used and there have been no extraordinary costs.

“The move was necessary not only because of the noise, but also due to security concerns,” Myatt wrote in an email Wednesday.

The exterior of the legislature’s east side is wrapped in white sheeting and scaffolds reach up into higher floor windows.

“This move is temporary and the premier’s office will return to the legislature when construction on the east wing has been completed,” Myatt wrote.

Opposition NDP critic Sarah Hoffman called the decision disturbing given that Kenney is in a penthouse as he deals with fallout from foreign holidays taken by his United Conservative legislature members during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“He’s defending luxury travel from the luxury condo that (former Progressive Conservative premier) Alison Redford built,” said Hoffman.

“They (the UCP) promised they were going to be humble. They promised they weren’t going to be the entitled (Progressive Conservative) era. And if anything it feels like they’ve doubled down on it.”

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said a second office in the Federal Building is necessary, but added she didn’t need one in the penthouse. She instead used rooms one floor down when she was premier from 2015 to 2019.

“As premier, I also had a secondary office in the Federal Building … on the 10th floor,” Notley wrote on Twitter. “I would have never worked out of the #SkyPalace and I’m puzzled why Jason Kenney wouldn’t use the existing offices. #ARoomWithAView?”

Kenney was not available Wednesday. He has not spoken to media since Friday, when he detailed how a number of caucus members and staff had taken or were on Christmas vacations abroad. The government had urged Albertans to hunker down over the holidays and follow strict public health orders meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Kenney declined to sanction the travelling politicians and staff. He said they were helping keep the airline business afloat, had not strictly broken any restrictions and other Albertans were vacationing as well.

Three days later, as public outrage grew, Kenney posted on social media that he had accepted the resignation of Tracy Allard, who was municipal affairs minister, over her Hawaiian vacation. Several members of the legislature were stripped of their responsibilities and his chief of staff, Jamie Huckabay, was asked to step down.

The “Sky Palace” scandal broke in March 2014, the same month Redford resigned over questionable travel expenses and trips.

It was discovered that the top floor of the government-owned building was being lavishly redecorated for Redford and included bedrooms, bathrooms, a dining room, lounge, fireplace, powder room, butler’s pantry, walk-in closet and room-by-room temperature controls.

Spending on the suite was cut off as criticism intensified over the taxpayer-funded project that had already racked up at least $240,000 in 3D design drawings, colour boards, room dividers, blueprints and construction.

Neither Tory premier who followed Redford nor the NDP’s Notley ever used the penthouse, which became a symbol of entitlement and excess and a politically toxic zone. The luxury accents were either removed or never installed.

Under Notley, the 11th floor suite was repurposed in 2016 as a comparatively spartan multi-purpose meeting room.

What remains is basic but elegant: wood flooring, carved wooden posts and floor-to-ceiling windows. Doors open onto a patio with panoramic views of the city.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2021

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Jason Kenney

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