Redford promises to disclose party expenses

Alberta Premier Alison Redford is promising to release details on expense money she gets from her party, but is deflecting opposition questions on any cash that would top up her salary.

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Alison Redford is promising to release details on expense money she gets from her party, but is deflecting opposition questions on any cash that would top up her salary.

She says it’s irrelevant because she’s not getting any money.

“I have repeatedly said in this house, last week, this week, (and) in a press availability yesterday I’m receiving no such payments,” Redford said Tuesday during question period.

“There is no information for me to be disclosing, because there is no information that I have.”

Liberal critic Hugh MacDonald said Redford must come clean on whether she’ll disclose any extra party money if it comes her way.

“Why does the premier feel it’s necessary to hide the details of the leader’s benefit plan trust from taxpayers?” he asked.

MacDonald and the Liberals have been grilling the government on the matter for more than a week.

Liberal Leader Raj Sherman has said disclosure of all money given to the premier by the Progressive Conservative party is critical, given it comes from public donors who receive tax credits.

The Liberals charge the entire funding plan, which stretches back to previous Tory leaders, exposes gaping holes in conflict of interest rules and leaves voters with the perception that party donors can buy access to the premier’s office.

The issue revolves around the PC fund to reimburse the leader’s expenses for travelling and networking in the party’s interests.

The money is paid in a lump sum. Anything that isn’t spent on events is put into a benefit plan trust for the premier and reported as income.

Any sources of income over $5,000 must be reported under provincial disclosure laws, but don’t have to be itemized and no final dollar figures are reported.

Conservative Party president Bill Smith has said a deal was worked out for former premiers and one is being negotiated for Redford. He has declined to reveal how much has been or will be paid out.

Redford has told the house the Tories have complied fully with disclosure laws and other parties are free to pursue the same types of trusts.

The Alberta premier is already the highest paid provincial leader in Canada at $215,000 a year.

Political scientist Duane Bratt said the issue is not as clear-cut as the Liberals would like to make it.

Reimbursing leaders for party activities is common, he said in an interview. Bratt added it’s justifiable compensation for their efforts and not one that necessarily needs to be made public.

“This is just about hammering and trying to embarrass a political leader.”

It touches Redford, he said, only in that she has promised a new dawn of democracy.

“She has talked about doing things differently. She has talked about greater transparency,” said Bratt, who is with Mount Royal University in Calgary.

During question period in recent days, the Opposition has questioned a funding deal worked out under former premier Ed Stelmach involving an incorporated company called True Blue.

The Liberals have produced records to show that while True Blue was set up to raise funds for Stelmach’s 2006 party leadership campaign, it continued to pay taxable allowances to the premier years after the race was over.

At the same time, the sole shareholder of True Blue, a senior lawyer, saw his law firm receive close to $9 million in government business.

Liberal critic Kevin Taft told the house Tuesday the issue doesn’t pass the smell test.

“Is there any government policy or law that prevents a shell company from being established, collecting unknown sums of money from unknown sources and paying these to a premier of Alberta in such a manner that the specific source and value is not known to the public?” Taft asked Justice Minister Verlyn Olson.

Olson, who is responsible for the oversight legislation, didn’t answer. Instead, he criticized Taft.