Alberta International and Intergovernmental Relations Minister Cal Dallas insists that his use of a government airplane to travel to Calgary from Grande Prairie following a Progressive Conservative Party fundraiser in the northern city was appropriate.
The MLA for Red Deer South was responding to accusations by the Wildrose Party that he “misused public assets” by boarding the plane, which had been used by former premier Alison Redford to attend the Oct. 25, 2012 party dinner in Grande Prairie. Alberta auditor general Merwan Saher has cited the trip as an example of how Redford and her staff ran afoul of expense rules.
“We reviewed Premier Redford’s schedule for that day and did not identify any government business scheduled in Grande Prairie,” said Saher in a report that was released on Thursday.
Dallas has since been identified as one of eight Conservative MLAs who boarded the same plane for the return trip to Calgary. That prompted Wildrose MLA Kerry Towle, who represents the riding of Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, to say in a release on Friday that Dallas should apologize.
Dallas, however, said he was travelling to Calgary on government business.
“I was hosting the briefing of the Consular Corps. Representatives of a variety of different nations attend that briefing and I needed to be in Calgary the following morning.
“I had no knowledge, no reason to suspect that that plane was not there (in Grande Prairie) conducting government business, and had no issue with taking the flight.”
Dallas added that he flew to Grande Prairie for the fundraiser aboard an airplane that had been chartered by the Progressive Conservative Party.
The auditor general’s report concluded that Redford and her staff misused taxpayers’ money, including through expenses incurred for partisan and personal trips.
Acting Premier Dave Hancock has ordered that the report be forwarded to the RCMP. Redford, who stepped down as premier in March, resigned her seat as a Calgary MLA on Wednesday.
The report makes several references to Alberta International and Intergovernmental Relations — and other provincial departments — in describing the process through which expenses by the premier’s office were approved and paid. But Dallas said these do not suggest any wrong-doing.
“He did not identify that there was any specific responsibilities related to myself or the ministry more generally. He did identify opportunities for potential improvement and we certainly appreciate that and I expect to act upon that.
“The challenge now is to make sure that we fully comprehend exactly what his intent is with those specific recommendations.”
For example, said Dallas, the report describes how Redford, her staff and other MLAs travelled to India and Switzerland at a stated cost of $131,374, when in fact the total expense including advance planning, security and other costs was about $450,000. Dallas pointed out that much of the discrepancy relates to preliminary work over a two-year period that was done to reach trade agreements signed during the mission.
“Those are the kinds of things that I’ve got to have his office provide some clarity to us, in the context of what they mean.”
Dallas said late Friday that the controversy surrounding the Grande Prairie flight had generated “significant” media interest, but he had not received a great deal of negative feedback from constituents on the issue.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith has called for a public inquiry into the issues raised in the auditor general’s report to determine if inappropriate expense practices are occurring elsewhere in government.