Tory leadership candidates say planes for official use only

EDMONTON — Two candidates vying to be Alberta’s next Tory party leader and premier say they will ground the policy that allows family members of party MLAs to fly on government planes.

EDMONTON — Two candidates vying to be Alberta’s next Tory party leader and premier say they will ground the policy that allows family members of party MLAs to fly on government planes.

Both Jim Prentice and Ric McIver said Saturday the planes are for official use only.

“Planes are required as a mode of transport for government business, and it is restricted to government business,” Prentice told reporters after all three candidates spoke at a party policy conference.

Candidate Ric McIver told reporters he would have the same policy for the same reason.

“The government airplanes are for business, and that’s what they would be used for and nothing else,” he said.

“I can’t think of a scenario right now that (having family members on board) would be allowed, so no.”

Extravagant air travel was one of the core issues of the spending controversy that led former premier Alison Redford to resign March 23, a step ahead of a caucus and party revolt.

But candidate Thomas Lukaszuk said there is value having family members accompany MLAs on official business.

He said sometimes spouses may have a role to play in the government event or that youngsters may be able to see the work firsthand and become inspired.

“If there is no cost added or if you reimburse taxpayers for bringing on a family member where appropriate … then there is nothing wrong with that,” he said.

“But that is something we definitely have to put some very stringent parameters around.”

Two weeks before she stepped down, Redford revealed that in the previous year and a half, she had flown her daughter Sarah and Sarah’s friends around on a government aircraft.

One of those trips was to a family funeral in Vancouver.

Redford also ordered the auditor general to do a value-for-money survey of the fleet of four planes. That review by Merwan Saher is still ongoing.

Opposition leaders have reminded the government that the auditor general ruled almost a decade ago that while spouses can fly on government planes for government events, other family members are not allowed.

However Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock, who is now serving as premier until a replacement is voted on in September, has defended bringing children on the trips, as long as it is revenue neutral.

“Why would you not take the time with your family (and) involve your family in the public service that you’re doing? Set the example for your family in terms of how you give back to the community,” Hancock told the house in March.

It has also been revealed that Redford used the planes to ferry herself and other government caucus members to Tory party events.

The opposition members have held up the planes as a symbol of Tory arrogance and entitlement.

Prentice has promised to end that entitlement. Earlier this week, he said regardless of Saher’s findings, there will be a clampdown.

He said he and all government members would fly commercially where available, particularly in the busy air corridor between Edmonton and Calgary.

He said he will, if necessary, undertake his own review of cost saving options.

One such option, he said, would be holding competitive bids for a standing contract with a private charter company.

On Saturday, Lukaszuk said while he, too, will review Saher’s recommendations, “I would definitely reduce our reliance on government aircraft. I don’t think we need that many.”

He said he might reduce the fleet to one plane, to be used for emergency purposes or to ferry Lieut.-Gov. Don Ethell.

The province has three Beechcraft King Air planes and a 30-seat Dash 8, at an operating cost of $4.6 million a year.