Alison Redford, in days past, somewhere in the skies over Alberta. OK, I never said I was a master of Photoshop! Below: Disgraced Canadian Senator Mike Duffy, Alberta Tory leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice, leadership candidate and former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk.
Will Alberta benefit from a police investigation of Alison Redford’s use of the government’s small fleet of passenger aircraft?
Here’s why: Notwithstanding the hyperbole from a number of elected officials of more than one political persuasion, not to mention the opinions of numerous columnists, bloggers and Twitterers, a trial, let alone a conviction, is extremely unlikely.
For all the ethical murkiness of the behaviour exhibited by Ms. Redford and unidentified members of her staff, not to mention some of her caucus mates as well, it’s not at all clear any laws were broken.
Maybe Ms. Redford shouldn’t have taken her daughter along on the government plane, but there’s no way the police or the Crown Prosecution Service are going to conclude that was a criminal breach of trust.
And certainly her staff shouldn’t have put the name of fictional “ghost riders” on the flight manifests as a sneaky way to ensure privacy for the premier and her political aides on certain flights. There have been some denials, but there seems to be no question this actually happened, as reported the day before yesterday by the CBC.
But was that a criminal breach of trust, whether or not Ms. Redford knew about it, as she says she didn’t? Fat chance.
There are so many obstacles to a successful prosecution here about the only thing this topic is good for is a question on some future law school examination.
The commentators screaming for Ms. Redford’s head on a platter – including those of the right-wing, tax-hating persuasion employed by Sun News Network and like organizations – may have missed it, but police and Crown prosecution time and resources cost tax money.
A typical right-wing opinion about this case was expressed yesterday in the Edmonton Sun by columnist Lorne Gunter, who argued that if Disgraced Canadian Senator Mike Duffy “can be charged for padding his expense account to claim his Ottawa home as a secondary residence and to pay for a trip to the funeral of a personal contact, then what Redford did seems far worse.”
No, what DCS Duffy is accused of is far worse – and, significantly, Mr. Gunter omits to mention the most serious charge in the PMO-Senate Scandal, the allegation Mr. Duffy accepted a bribe, the offering of which the RCMP has bizarrely concluded wasn’t a criminal matter.
Sorry, but taking your kid on an airplane that was already flying somewhere – even numerous times – isn’t an offence of the same magnitude as taking a bribe to execute your public duties in a particular way or submitting fraudulent expense claims with the intention of pocketing the cash.
This is true even if the accusations against Mr. Duffy happen to be an embarrassment to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom Mr. Gunter admires. But Mr. Gunter is right about one thing. Truly, some of Ms. Redford’s activities and those of her staff and caucus stink.
What stinks about them, though, is the instinct to deceive on the part of Ms. Redford’s office when a perfectly legitimate argument could have been made that the premier and her staff needed to be unaccompanied on those flights so they could discuss political questions frankly and openly.
Well, we’re all having our fun with this – and to that accusation, I plead guilty too – but we also need to keep in mind that a criminal investigation by the police may in fact be the best possible outcome from the perspective of Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservative Party.
It would give them at last the opportunity to kick her out of caucus and argue that they’ve dealt firmly and appropriately with the single bad apple in their ranks. This is what Tory leadership frontrunner and former Redford friend Jim Prentice seemed to be suggesting was an appropriate response yesterday. Likewise, her former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who is seeking the same job.
It would also allow former members of cabinet like Ric McIver, the third leadership candidate, and Finance Minister Doug Horner, both of whom surely had at least an inkling of what was going on, to claim the many problems Albertans are starting to see with the PC Party’s leadership cadre were the work of that one bad person, now thankfully gone.
And it would provide the perfect excuse for the lot of them to zip their lips and say they can’t comment on an active police investigation that’s conveniently likely to go on for months – thereby avoiding the need to answer questions about the ethical problems endemic to their party.
As an aside, one other likely effect of this affair will be the loss of the government’s small air fleet, which in fact serves a useful purpose for the taxpayers of Alberta.
For flight within Alberta, government aircraft save time for legitimate government work and allow for double tasking by the premier and his or her staff – exactly what Ms. Redford and her political advisors were apparently trying to do when someone cooked up this stupid Fakes on a Plane scheme.
With government aircraft in a province the size of Alberta, officials can fly in and out of some of the smallest airports, work between meetings and avoid having to be paid while they line up for commercial flights. Notwithstanding Ms. Redford’s unconscionable misuse of the planes, how are we taxpayers going to be better off if they are sold and the work contracted out to the high-cost private sector?
I suspect voters in their current justly disillusioned mood won’t be sympathetic to this view, but it remains a fact it’s not a bad use of our tax dollars, just like it’s a fact a doomed criminal prosecution of the former premier is not a good use of our taxes – no matter how much it secretly pleases her former caucus colleagues, who never much liked her anyway.
No, Ms. Redford’s crimes are political in nature – although not in the sense that phrase is normally used in totalitarian states. That is, they are known to the public, possibly immoral, but highly unlikely to be deemed illegal by a court.
They – and more importantly those of her party – can only be punished in a political forum. And the only meaningful way to do that is to fight an election over them.