Alison Redford’s party awaits the Alberta Premier’s arrival before boarding their Government of Alberta aircraft. Actual Alberta big shots may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Pompeia, the wife of Caesar, who divorced her; and Marie Antoinette, who didn’t say “let them eat cake” but came to a bad end anyway.
What goes up must come down, we used to say, and that adage appears to include both Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s in-flight fancies aboard the government’s aircraft and the first-class compartments of commercial airliners as well as her entire political career.
But then, it’s always the little things that catch the eye and offend the principles of ordinary voters – arguments over the constitutionality of a bad law, not so much perhaps, but a too-expensive glass of orange juice or an airplane fare that seems over the top can be just the ticket.
There’s a reason the sans-culottes were so bugged by that chance remark about letting them eat cake, whomever it was that actually happened to make it.
What really gets people about Ms. Redford, it seems to me, is her tone deafness about this whole affair – she’s the premier, for crying out loud, she seems to be saying, of course she flies first class. And the rest of us? They serve cake back in steerage, don’t they?
Full disclosure: I flew first class once. I got bumped up there by Air Canada because of a ticketing error, which they acknowledged was their fault. And it is nicer than flying in the back of the plane. But is it worth $9,000 more than a regular ticket to Nelson Mandela’s funeral? Not in my opinion.
So, no, as a taxpayer I don’t think any politician should fly first class or business class on a commercial flight – and, what’s more, I think he or she would be a fool to do so, for the simple reason there are more voters back in the cheap seats!
But Ms. Redford doesn’t seem to get it that for people in high office, as was said of Julius Caesar’s wife, the right thing must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.
Which is why anyone in her position with an ounce of sense would have paid for her daughter’s friend’s flight on a government airplane right up front without being asked, or not invited her along of there was no way to pay, because it was obviously not going to look right.
What’s more, clear travel rules – like those of any sensible employer – that define in advance what’s covered when travelling on business, and what isn’t, would help politicians like Ms. Redford considerably.
Alas, Ms. Redford always seems to have too much noblesse and not nearly enough oblige!
Earlier today, the premier gave a news conference that the media described as emotional, but which on video merely looked choked up, in which she said she’d reimburse Alberta taxpayers a few thousand dollars for her personal use of their aircraft. But as for paying back the $45,000 airfare to South Africa the opposition is still screaming about, fuggedaboudit!
There are those who would say that when you’ve fessed up that you took something you shouldn’t have, it’s not repayment or reimbursement, it’s restitution.
But the tone of Ms. Redford’s explanation was unrepentant either way, and indicated she still doesn’t get it why people are so upset and frustrated with her.
“I clearly stood up in front of Albertans and said I screwed up,” Ms. Redford said, sounding remarkably like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. “I certainly hope that is something Albertans understand.” (Sotto voce: Yeah, yeah, how many times do I have to say I’m sorry?)
What’s more, she said she’d asked the Auditor General to look into all the government’s flights – which sure sounds like a neat dodge to get out of having to answer any more questions in the Legislature.
Even worse, there is probably more to come. Leastways, nothing seems to have been reported yet about the premier’s trips to India and Switzerland in January, and who would be willing to bet the bills for those jaunts won’t land with a mighty thud as well once they’re reported?
Unfortunately for Ms. Redford, with most of her former progressive supporters disillusioned by her spectacularly broken promises and her conservative caucus and cabinet in an uproar because they fear for their own political hides, she has virtually no friends left.
The Ides of March aren’t for another 11 days, but the knives are already out for this premier, metaphorically speaking, and it’s hard not to conclude she hasn’t brought it on herself.
It’s also hard to see how, if she doesn’t go soon, voluntarily or kicking and screaming, everything’s not going to come up roses – wild roses – which is not necessarily a good thing either.
Where’s Ed Stelmach, who these days looks like the noblest Albertan of them all, now that his province actually needs him? (That’s enough Caesar references – Ed.)