EDMONTON – Documents show the sister of Alberta Premier Alison Redford used her position as a health board executive to attend and hold Progressive Conservative party events on the taxpayers’ dime.
There was money for liquor, travel, hotels, flowers and bug repellent.
Wildrose party Leader Danielle Smith, while releasing the documents Monday, said a bigger investigation is needed since Lynn Redford and those who signed off on those expenses remain executives with Alberta’s health superboard.
“We’ve got the same people in positions today who exercised this lack of judgment, and they need to be called to account,” Smith told a news conference at the legislature.
Smith said the case bridges the two scandals of health officials abusing their expense accounts – such as former Edmonton health region chief financial officer Allaudin Merali – with public institutions delivering government grant and operating money to the PC party.
“This connects with the broader story of repeated instances of illegal activity in giving donations to a partisan political party from taxpayer dollars,” said Smith. “We want to know how widespread that problem is.”
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Premier Redford, appearing on CTV’s political program “Power Play,” pointed out that the accusations go back to a time when Ralph Klein was premier and she wasn’t even an elected MLA yet.
She suggested the criticism consists of a few “excited allegations” that will be clarified in the next few days.
“I have confidence in my sister,” she said.
The Wildrose and the NDP kept up the attack during question period, which prompted a sharp reply from deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk.
“While the government has been focusing on delivering good health care in this province, while this government has been focusing on working with agriculture during a time of disaster (meat recall crisis) not too long ago, these bottom feeders have only been pouring through receipts and hoping to find something scandalous,” Lukaszuk told the house as shouts erupted on both sides.
The Wildrose party obtained the documents under freedom of information rules. The papers pertain to Lynn Redford’s spending while she was government relations adviser to the now-defunct Calgary Health Region from 2005 to 2008.
The Calgary region and all other regions were folded into one giant superboard in 2009. Lynn Redford is currently the vice-president in charge of special projects for the Alberta Health Services, or AHS, superboard.
The documents show $3,448 worth of party spending by her. Public institutions are forbidden from spending money on partisan political activities.
The expenses included $220 for two nights in a hotel for a Tory convention in 2005.
There was $894 in mileage and parking to attend PC fundraisers, barbecues and a golf tournament.
In 2007, Lynn Redford claimed more than $500 to put on a barbecue for Tory MLAs, including almost $400 for liquor, other drinks and bug repellent. She also billed taxpayers for $141 to sign up and attend the Alberta Liberal party general meeting in 2005.
Another $135 was spent sending flowers to MLAs and ministers.
NDP Leader Brian Mason noted that Premier Redford became justice minister in 2008 and may have had access to this information. If so, he said, the public needs to know why she didn’t act on it.
“We need to know from the premier what she knew and when she knew it,” said Mason.
“This goes to the very heart of the confidence that Albertans can have in her leadership.”
The documents show that some expenses were approved by Patti Grier, now chief of staff and corporate secretary for AHS. The superboard works under the umbrella of the Alberta Health Department, carrying out day-to-day operations.
AHS spokesman Kerry Williamson, in a written release, said Lynn Redford was filing expenses when rules were fuzzy.
“The policies and practices of the former health regions were not well defined and were open to interpretation,” said Williamson. “Ms. (Lynn) Redford and the Calgary Health Region were meeting the expectations and norms at that time.
“That is not the case at AHS. The policies and practices have been clarified and formalized in written policy.”
Health Minister Fred Horne echoed those remarks.
“I’m not going to make any comment on past health regions,” Horne said Monday.
“We have very strict policy today in Alberta Health Services with respect to these sort of donations that complies with provincial law.
“I’m very, very comfortable that today this sort of situation is not going to be a concern.”
The Merali case is one of many money controversies that have buffeted the PCs.
Merali agreed to step down as chief financial officer on Aug. 1 just hours before a television story aired detailing his lavish spending while chief financial officer for the now-defunct Edmonton-area health region. Merali ran up $346,000 on expensive meals, butlers and to have his Mercedes-Benz fixed.
Soon after, the boss who approved those expenses, Sheila Weatherill, resigned her position on the AHS board.
Chief electoral officer Brian Fjeldheim has been investigating multiple allegations of illegal donations to the Tories from schools, universities, colleges and municipalities.
Fjeldheim is also investigating reports the Tories accepted a $430,000 election campaign contribution from billionaire Daryl Katz this spring. Katz is looking for public money for a new rink for his Edmonton Oilers hockey team.
PC party officials deny the allegations and say no individual donor exceeded the $30,000 maximum.
Premier Redford has promised to make results of the Katz investigation public, as Fjeldheim says he does not have legal authority to make the findings public on his own.