Editorial — The 'aura of power' is a big problem

Alison Redford resigned her seat as an Alberta MLA last Tuesday. She may be taking the Alberta Progressive Conservatives out the door with her — polls show that the party is in rough shape, just two years after Redford took it to an historic victory, in an election where the PCs had been behind in the polls.

Alberta is booming. The oil business is strong, and there are plenty of jobs available. Taxes are low and housing prices, while still high, are lower than here.

The PCs are long in the tooth — they have been in office since 1971,  under six different premiers. They have benefited from the Alberta preference of keeping one party in power for long stretches of time, until the public eventually tires of them. The Social Credit Party, which preceded the PCs, was in power for 36 years before getting tossed. The PCs are now in year 43.

The reason Redford resigned as premier in March, and now as MLA, was her spending habits. She used government aircraft for personal and party business, and it has recently come out that her staff would book fictional passengers so that she didn’t have to share the private jets with anyone — that is, her own MLAs.

She also arranged to have a private penthouse built in an Edmonton building owned by the government. Work on it was well underway when she left the premier’s job.

Redford was taken down by the spending of $45,000 to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral last December in South Africa. Redford worked for the United Nations for years and knew Mandela, but when offered a seat on a plane taking Prime Minister Stephen Harper and others to the funeral, decided to go business class on her own.

She took arrogance and entitlement to a new level, one rarely seen anywhere else in Canada.

A remark in the auditor-general’s report on her spending habits is worth repeating.

Auditor-General  Merwan Saher wrote “How could this have happened? The answer is the aura of power around Premier Redford and her office and the perception that the influence of the office should not be questioned.”

That phrase sums up the way most governments in Canada operate. The leader of the party that wins an election quickly cloaks him or herself with an “aura of power” and no one, including other cabinet ministers or government MPs or MLAs, can question their actions.

Redford may have taken that “aura of power” into a new stratosphere, in terms of misuse of her office and a willingness to ignore rules. But she is far from the only government leader to surround herself with an “aura of power.” No wonder Canadians are so cynical about politics.

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