Alberta’s auditor general has been asked to review foreign travel by staff in the premier’s office and on the activities of the $30-million Canadian Energy Centre.
Alberta’s NDP opposition sent a letter to auditor general Doug Wylie Thursday, one day after revealing David Knight-Legg, Premier Jason Kenney’s principal adviser, spent more than $18,000 on four trips to London over the last six months.
Knight-Legg has claimed nearly $45,000 in expenses since the UCP took office in April.
The premier’s office said Knight-Legg was meeting with bankers and investors but refused to provide details about who he met with due to the “commercially sensitive nature of the meetings.”
The NDP wants Wylie to undertake a performance audit to ensure such travel is related to attempting to increase economic development. It is also asking Wylie to determine if the public interest is served when the government refuses to reveal the purpose of international travel.
Heather Sweet, the MLA for Edmonton-Manning and NDP critic for democracy and ethics, co-signed the letter to Wylie, along with her caucus colleagues Irfan Sabir and Shannon Phillips.
Sweet told reporters Thursday she is concerned about the lack of transparency. The government didn’t disclose the itinerary, the cost and purpose of the trips ahead of time, and is refusing to release details after the fact, she said.
“How can we believe as Albertans that they are actually using this money for what they’re saying they’re using it for?” she said.
War room secrecy
The premier’s office is defending Knight-Legg’s travel by claiming he was working to attract investment the previous NDP government let slip away.
“Government sat idly by as our province was the target of a coordinated misinformation campaign driving international investors to divest from Alberta,” Harrison Fleming, deputy press secretary to Kenney, said in a written statement Thursday.
“We make no apologies for fighting to bring investment back to Alberta and forcibly fighting this foreign-funded campaign of defamation against our province.”
Sweet said the government is spending millions on “special interests” while asking Albertans to cut back to bring the province’s finances back to balance.
The NDP letter also urges Wylie to look into the $30-million Canadian Energy Centre, otherwise known as the energy war room. The centre was set up as a private corporation, making it exempt from freedom of information requests.
The government defended the move, claiming the secrecy is necessary to prevent what it calls foreign-funded activists from learning about the war room’s strategy.
The letter to Wylie says the NDP is concerned the government uses the centre as an excuse by linking it to activities it doesn’t want to talk about.
Questions about Knight-Legg’s travel follows last week’s revelation about a $16,000 taxpayer-funded charter flight that took Kenney, three other premiers and two spouses from Calgary to Saskatoon for a Council of the Federation meeting in July.
The government is also facing questions about a $905,000 sole-source contract awarded to Dentons law firm by Kenney appointee Steve Allan, the commissioner leading a $2.5-million public inquiry into the funding of anti-Alberta energy campaigns.
Allan’s son is a partner in the Calgary law firm.