Redford to the masses: Let ‘em eat cake!

When the rock is a hard place, it's usually government thinking it's a friggin' balloon

When the rock is a hard place, it’s usually government thinking it’s a friggin’ balloon

There is something decidedly Bev Oda about Alison Redford. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the two of them share a certain je ne sais quoi, a certain let ‘em eat cake mentality, a certain – how shall I put this? – aura of power.

Actually, that’s not my phrase. It belongs to Merwan Saher, Alberta’s Auditor-General. Speaking to reporters last week about his report on Ms. Redford’s financial dalliances whilst serving as premier of that province (she’s since left both the job and her position as Progressive Conservative MLA), Mr. Saher said, “This is the sense we had  – that this working around rules, this tendency even to ignore rules, is to fulfill requests coming from the premier’s office in ways that avoided leaving the premier with personal responsibility for those decisions.”

Of course, compared with Ms. Redford, Bev Oda, former federal minister for International Cooperation, is a lightweight in the entitlement department. Before Prime Minister Stephen Harper “retired” her in 2012, she was justly famous for charging a $16 glass of orange juice in a London hotel back to Canadian taxpayers.

Ms. Redford, on the other hand, once spent $825 on a single hotel room (according to the Globe and Mail), had her staff block-book seats on airplanes for people who didn’t exist just so she could get a little more legroom, and spent nearly half-a-million bucks on a trip to Switzerland.

Specifically, Mr. Saher’s report bluntly states: “Premier Redford and her office used public resources inappropriately. They consistently failed to demonstrate in the documents we examined that their travel expenses were necessary and a reasonable and appropriate use of public resources – in other words, economical and in support of a government business objective.”

What’s more, says the report, “Premier Redford used public assets (aircraft) for personal and partisan purposes. And Premier Redford was involved in a plan to convert public space in a public building into personal living space.”

Finally, comes this stinging rebuke: “No public servant, not even a premier, should be excused from vigilant oversight of their compliance with policies and processes designed both to protect the public interest and themselves from bad judgement.

And what does the former Princess of the Oil Patch have to say for herself? 

“I had hoped to have more time to do more of what I promised Albertans,” she wrote recently in the Edmonton Journal. “There were many issues we could tackle quickly – a new social policy framework, equality rights, better funding for mental health, disaster responses in the north and south, funding for teachers, Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, a single regulator and sustainable energy development, a more rational royalty framework, and opening new trade offices. I am proud of the Safe Communities Agenda for Alberta, and the Social Policy Framework that helped to prevent vulnerable youth from following the path of addiction, crime and homelessness. I truly believe we made a difference.”

At the same time, she conceded, “There were also many issues that we needed to deal with that were always going to take longer to fix, for two reasons. First, they were complicated, and second, many had been neglected for too long and there was entrenched resistance to new approaches. That is a reality and a dilemma in public life. It is necessary to be bold and confident, but there is always reluctance to look ahead and to face challenges as well as opportunities. It is easier to look back, to what we know and understand. Moving forward is more difficult, particularly in a province as blessed as Alberta.”

I’ll say it’s blessed. Ask any Maritimer who can’t afford bus fare, let alone plane tickets and hotel rooms. That’s what you get when you have more money than God. In fact, if you’re Alison Redford, you don’t actually need His blessing at all.

Just a little of what Mr. Saher calls “bad judgement” and an “aura of power.”

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