EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Alison Redford has dismissed suggestions that backbencher Steve Young would be turfed from caucus for criticizing her $45,000 taxpayer-funded trip to Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
“I think Steve’s comments are very valid,” Redford said Thursday as she went into a Progressive Conservative caucus meeting at Government House.
She said Young echoed similar remarks she made two weeks ago after cost details of the December trip were made public.
“This was something that was unfortunate. I apologized for it and took responsibility,” said Redford.
When asked whether Young would stay in caucus, Redford replied: “I don’t really think that’s what this is about. I respect people’s opinions. We don’t disagree on that, and I’ve been clear on that, so we’ll carry on.”
Young did not make himself available for an interview, but in an email wrote: “I was elected first to represent Edmonton-Riverview and Alberta and I will continue to do so within the PC caucus.”
Earlier this week, he made waves when he told the Calgary Herald that the South Africa bill was still a hot topic with constituents and within caucus. He said the costly trip didn’t measure up to “Alberta values.”
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil went on the same trip for less than $1,000.
While Redford has refused to pay back any of the money, Young told the Herald she still has the option of writing a cheque.
The trip included $20,000 in first-class air tickets for Redford’s executive assistant and the use of a government plane when commercial flights were available.
In the Herald column, Young also called into question the premier’s broader communications efforts.
Redford’s advisers have been working for two years to build her image as a likable Every-Albertan and to portray the Opposition Wildrose party as extremist and intolerant.
Young deflected questions on whether he likes Redford personally, but told the Herald while he can’t imagine having a beer with Redford, he could share a frosty one with Wildrose member of the legislature Ian Donovan.
The episode is the latest in what has become a tortuous — and torturous — political relationship between Young and his boss, one full of confusion, retraction and humiliation.
Young, 44, is a former police officer, educator and elite level hockey player drafted by the New York Islanders in 1989. He was elected as a Tory in the April 2012 election and was named government whip.
Last December, he was rewarded with a new post as associate minister in charge of public safety. But on the night before the cabinet swearing-in, Young was told by Redford’s office he was out because of renewed concern over a 2007 internal investigation into his Tasering a suspect while Young served with the Edmonton police.
He was exonerated, although the presiding officer said he had concerns about the “disjointed” nature of Young’s testimony. Redford said when she learned of that, she rethought the cabinet appointment and gave the post instead to Rick Fraser.
Young said he was not allowed to tell anyone of the ouster until after the cabinet swearing-in, forcing him to bite his tongue as well-wishers patted him on the back.
At the swearing-in, Redford said Young had “personal” issues, prompting Young’s wife to call him and find out if he was OK.
It wasn’t the first time Young and Redford got their wires crossed.
In October 2012, Young was one of the Tories on a legislature committee to move to bring back transition allowances for members of the legislature who either retire or lose elections.
Those allowances, including more than $1 million for former Speaker Ken Kowalski, had become political poison for Redford and she had promised to axe them months earlier.
Redford deflected questions on whether she had directed Young to make the motion and would only say that her members have freedom to act. That left Young alone to defend himself in a rambling, confusing legislature rotunda media scrum that saw him, by turns, both reject and accept responsibility.
Critics accused Redford of using Young as a stalking horse to see if there was any political wiggle room to bring back the allowances.
They said Redford was exposed as the master string-puller when, months later, Young and the same committee passed a politician pay-freeze motion.
Redford went on Twitter to laud that decision, well before the vote had even been taken.