Jim Prentice, newly sworn in as Alberta’s premier, said the cabinet’s first decision will be to sell the government’s fleet of four aircraft.
“The Alberta government is no longer in the business of owning aircraft,” Prentice told reporters Tuesday, saying that the government “doesn’t need airplanes to access Alberta.”
Earlier this year, the province’s auditor general released a report that slammed former premier Alison Redford over her use of government aircraft, including booking false passengers to the flights and gaining “personal benefit” by taking her daughter on dozens of government flights.
Nearly a decade ago, Premier Ralph Klein was also criticized for hundreds of empty flights involving government planes.
Prentice said that ministers will be expected to fly on commercial flights effective immediately. Charter planes will be available for more remote parts of the province, but they will have to be approved.
A period of three to four months will be needed to set up arrangements for charter flights, Prentice said. In the interim, the government will continue to use the planes it owns.
He also promised that air travel will be used for “government business only,” in reference to accusations that the party scheduled government events in the past as cover to fly members of the legislature across the province for partisan reasons.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees was informed earlier Tuesday that 27 jobs would be affected by the sale of the planes.
Selling planes not enough: Wildrose
The province’s Opposition party said it was “pleased” about the sale of the aircraft, but that the planes themselves were not the root of the problem.
“If Mr. Prentice is serious about addressing the culture of entitlement, he will need to take a firmer stand on government travel and send the message that no minister is above the standards Albertans expect,” Wildrose leader Danielle Smith wrote in a release.
Smith said that despite speaking firmly on the proper use of government resources, members of Prentice’s newly chosen cabinet were among those who reportedly misused the planes in the past.
“Mr. Prentice had a chance to send a message that ministers with a history of spending abuse would be held accountable. Instead, he gave them a spot at the table,” she wrote.
Won’t change ‘Sky Palace’ plans
During Tuesday’s press conference, his first as Alberta’s premier, Prentice touched on other controversial issues that have plagued the ruling Progressive Conservative government. He also said that he would not spend any more money on the luxury premier’s residence, dubbed the “Sky Palace,” partially constructed under Redford’s watch in Edmonton.
After public outrage over the plan, the province’s auditor general reported that the space would be used for meeting rooms, although some residential amenities had already been partially installed.
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Prentice said the most cost effective course at this point would be just to continue that plan.
“I don’t think the taxpayers of Alberta want to see any more costs incurred,” he said.
“Clearly, I’m not sure why a shower needs to be next to a meeting room, but if it has been wired and plumbed for that purpose, I guess it’ll stay that way, because I don’t intend to pay any more public money on changing it.”
Prentice said he is in the process of purchasing a condo for when he stays in Edmonton.