Alison Redford flights need RCMP probe, Alberta premier says

Alberta Premier Dave Hancock is calling on the RCMP to investigate the use of government airplanes by his predecessor, Alison Redford, who resigned her seat in the legislature on Wednesday.

Hancock made the statement after reading the report by Alberta auditor general Merwan Saher that will be released to the public on Thursday.

“Based on what I have read in the report, and after seeking legal advice, as soon as the report is publicly available tomorrow, I will be directing the minister of justice and solicitor general to refer this matter to the RCMP for their review and any investigations that they consider appropriate," Hancock said in the written statement.

Earlier on Wednesday, Redford announced her resignation as member of the legislature for Calgary-Elbow in a self-penned article in Wednesday's Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal.

In a teleconference with reporters, Hancock said that Redford has done the right thing by stepping down. He said that referring the report to the RCMP is "the prudent thing to do."

“The report identifies a number of areas of concern," he said. "And I think in the interests of completeness and in the interests of being fully satisfied that everything appropriate has been done that it’s appropriate to ask that certain issues in the report be investigated.”

Redford's latest resignation comes as Saher prepares to make public a special duty report on the expenses of Redford's office while she was premier and Alberta's Air Transportation Services Program.

Hancock received and read a copy of Saher's report on Friday. He said that he has not discussed the contents with Redford. He also declined to discuss specifics with reporters until the report is out on Thursday.

Travel expense scrutiny

Redford faced calls to resign as a member of the legislature after CBC News revealed that not all of her travel expenses were properly accounted for.

As premier, she was able to fly alone with her entourage because “false passengers” were booked on at least a dozen government flights, CBC News learned after obtaining an internal report to the government.

The same documents revealed that Redford gained a “personal benefit” by taking her daughter on dozens of government flights.

Alberta opposition politicians have called on the RCMP to formally investigate these allegations.

In her article in the Calgary newspaper that's headlined "It's time to start the next chapter of my life," Redford admitted that "mistakes were made along the way," but did not reference any specific allegations.

“In hindsight, there were many things I would have done differently," she wrote. "That said, I accept responsibility for all the decisions I have made.”

Derek Fildebrandt, Alberta director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, praised Redford's decision to forgo a transition allowance she's entitled to that's worth an estimated $179,000.

“She had promised never to take that, and today she has reiterated that comment, that commitment,” he said.

"A lot of us are just happy to see this nightmarish scenario maybe put behind us, pending the auditor's report tomorrow [Thursday]. Maybe things aren't as bad as we are led to believe, maybe things are worse. It's difficult to tell."

Redford says she and her family will continue to live in the province. She writes that she plans to teach and resume working in international development and public policy.

"The ideals that brought me to public life in the first place have not changed. By continuing in public service in new roles, I will look for new ways to make a contribution," Redford wrote.

Resigned as premier in March

Redford was sworn in as premier on Oct. 7, 2011. She stepped down in March.

Her resignation as premier came after she faced opposition from her party over her leadership and questions over her travel expenses, including $45,000 for her trip to Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa.

Redford eventually repaid the $45,000 and a separate $3,156 for a flight to Vancouver for her uncle's funeral and taking her daughter's friends on four other trips.

In her statement resigning as premier, Redford said there has been too much time spent "on questions of loyalty, allegiances and character," distracting people from doing the work Albertans elected them to do.

"I am not prepared to allow party and caucus in-fighting to get in the way of building a better future for our province and for all Albertans," she said at the time.

When she entered the PC leadership race in February 2011, Redford was seen as a long shot to win, especially against perceived front-runner Gary Mar, the former cabinet minister under Ralph Klein.

But she won on the second ballot and was sworn in as Alberta's first female premier in October 2011.

Redford fought off the surging Wildrose Party and led the PCs to another majority government in the April 2012 provincial election. She won 77 per cent approval in a leadership review last November.

However, questions about the South Africa trip and the use of government planes, and grumbling about her non-consultative leadership style forced her to step down as premier.

Jim Lightbody, a political science professor at the University of Alberta, said that if she had caucus on her side she may have been able to weather the scandals with a public apology.

However, she was seen to run what Lightbody describes as "an imperial office."

“She seemed to me that she saw herself perpetually as the outsider and that’s a very hard role to play when you are premier of the province, because you have to bring constituencies along with you," he said.

"You have to first and foremost of all have the caucus with you because they’re the people who communicate tough decisions to the electorate."

Three people are running to replace Redford as party leader and premier:

- Jim Prentice, former Conservative MP and cabinet minister.

- Ric McIver, a former Redford cabinet minister.

- Thomas Lukaszuk, also a former cabinet minister who served as Redford's deputy premier.

Prentice said with Redford's resignation, the party can now focus on its future.

"I think she did the honourable thing and you know, from my perspective, I would simply wish her and her family well as she moves forward with the next chapter of her life," he said.

CBC News has confirmed Prentice will not run in Redford’s riding, Calgary-Elbow, when a byelection is called.

McIver called Redford's resignation difficult but necessary.

"We'll move forward, but we will not ignore the lessons of the past. Those that say ignore the past are doomed to repeat those mistakes,” he said.

Earlier this week, Lukaszuk called on PC MLAs to hold an emergency meeting to discuss ousting Redford from caucus.

In a brief Twitter post in response to Redford's resignation announcement, he said: "It's a new chapter for Alberta. I wish everyone involved all the best on future journeys. Now is time to focus on tomorrow in Alberta.”

In a statement released Wednesday morning, PC Party president Jim McCormick tried to distance the party from Redford.

Redford started with "such promise," McCormick wrote, but "it was her own personal choices that led to her demise."

McCormick said that the "circumstance" will not happen again under the next party leader.

"The Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta is more than one person," he wrote.

"It has a membership and supporters that are Albertans of a broad spectrum, from all walks of our society, one where honesty, integrity and service to building and strengthening our community — things that Alberta PC governments are known for — are paramount."

Opposition blame party, not just Redford

Representatives from all three opposition parties said that Redford’s resignation doesn’t let the PC Party off the hook.

Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said that Redford did the right thing by resigning and called it “the sad ending to a career that once held such promise.”

However, Sherman said responsibility for the government fleet belongs to Finance Minister Doug Horner and he needs to answer questions about how the planes were used.

"If his ministry knew about this, did he know about this? If he knew about it, why didn’t he do anything about it at that time?" he said. "We still need an RCMP investigation into why taxpayer money was misused and mismanaged. It doesn't get the government or Doug Horner off the hook."

Horner was on vacation when the story broke last week. He is now back in the office but has not made himself available for interviews.

NDP member of the legislature Rachel Notley said the PCs are trying to distance themselves from Redford, but the problem remains within the party itself.

"I think the problem goes deeper than Alison Redford,” she said. “I think it runs through the Conservative Party, and I think most Albertans know that."

Wildrose member of the legislature Kerry Towle called out the entire cabinet and said that the party may try to make her a scapegoat in their bid to cling to power.

"But the fact is, not a single one of them had the guts or the integrity to stand up to her," she said.

"By remaining silent in the face of such abuse, each and every one of them must wear Ms. Redford’s record."