NDP labels Prentice’s flagship bill to clean up government ‘all hat, no cattle’

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley says proposed legislation to clean up government is hollow because it's written in a way to allow for quick changes in secret.

EDMONTON — Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley says proposed legislation to clean up government is hollow because it’s written in a way to allow for quick changes in secret.

“Jim Prentice’s accountability legislation is the classic example of something which is all hat, no cattle. He promised big and delivered very little,” Notley said at a legislature news conference Tuesday.

“If this is the pattern that we’re going to see from this premier, then we actually have some current trust issues that need to be dealt with.”

The Alberta Accountability Act was introduced in the legislature Monday.

Its goal is to fulfil a leadership campaign promise by Prentice to eliminate government greed, cronyism and entitlement, so that Albertans can move on from the spending scandals under former premier Alison Redford.

Among the changes, there are to be new rules to ensure a level playing field for companies bidding for government work. There are also to be limits on how much severance can be paid to political staff.

However, both of those changes are not part of the legislation, but instead are to be Treasury Board directives.

Notley said that means Prentice and his fellow Progressive Conservatives who run the Treasury Board could amend those directives behind closed doors and whenever they wished.

It also means Prentice has failed to come through on his promise to put the changes in legislation, she said.

The question of fairness in contracts made headlines earlier this fall when auditor general Merwan Saher reported that under Redford, the province broke sole-source contracting rules to deliver almost $540,000 in contracts to the communications firm Navigator Ltd.

Saher said the Health Department and Redford’s office didn’t justify reasons why the Navigator contracts couldn’t be put up for competitive bids and, in some cases, didn’t check back to see if a contract was value for money.

Saher did not cite any irregularities by Navigator.

Under the old rules, the government had to solicit bids for any services contract over $75,000. The new law would lower that figure to $10,000.

For construction work, the threshold for competitive bids would drop to $50,000 from $100,000.

The deputy minister, who is the top civil servant in a department, would have to sign off on any decision to break the contracting rules, such as in an emergency situation or if there were only one provider.

The reasons for such a decision would also have to be made available to the public.

Navigator is a national firm whose leaders have close ties with the provincial Conservatives and who have assisted with campaign strategy in the past.

Prentice is friends with key Navigator executives but has said in the past that the company won’t be bidding on government contracts while he is premier.

Redford was also criticized for generous salaries and severance packages for members of her inner circle.

Her chief of staff, Farouk Adatia, received a base annual salary of $316,000, and nine staff members pocketed $1.2 million in severance when they left the premier’s office with Redford in March.

Redford quit as premier in the face of an escalating revolt from her party and caucus over exorbitant travel spending that included $45,000 to fly her and an aide to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.