Billion Dollar Boondoggle

Alberta’s Auditor General brought down a scathing report today that contained almost half a dozen scandals inside of it. If you closed your eyes and imagined yourself in federal politics, or any other province, you’d have to see this as a fatal blow…because this is right up there with the worst reports Sheila Fraser has delivered. Kevin Taft has already called for an election and this report will certainly shift the focus away from Stelmach’s impending decision on the royalty review. Because the question is no long whether or not Stelmach will implement the full report – we all know he’ll make major changes. That’s a no brainer at this point. And I don’t mean “no brainer” in the sense of “it’s a no brainer for anyone but Ed Stelmach” – even Ed will pull this one off. He’ll try to spin it as standing up to the oil industry but, by this point, there isn’t a politician alive who wouldn’t make major oil royalties changes in Alberta. It’s not really “leadership” when any brain dead primate would make the same decision.

The real question Stelmach needs to answer is why a government he was a Cabinet Minister in failed to act. He needs to explain why Ralph Klein and Greg Melchin repeatedly said government studies showed Alberta was getting its fair share, when the opposite was true. You want a billion dollar boondoggle? How about this:

The Alberta government knew as far back as three years ago that Albertans could collect at least another $1 billion a year from the oil industry, provincial Auditor General Fred Dunn said in his annual report.

The report, released Monday, paints a damning picture of lax accounting and accountability in the province’s energy ministry, years before the release of a royalty review panel report last month that concluded Albertans are not getting their “fair share” from oil and gas development, and should be collecting another $2 billion annually in royalties.

The principles of transparency and accountability, I believe, were not followed,” Dunn said. “I’m not impressed.”

Dunn said the province has had all the information it needed to harvest another $1 billion in royalties for years without harming the oil industry, but kept that information to itself.

“Neither this information nor the reasons why changes have not taken place have been made public,” his report said.

Despite this, Stelmach is still backing Greg Melchin. Now, by itself, lying to Albertans to cheat them out of several billion dollars is bad. But there’s more:

1. Remember the fuss over golf balls at the federal level? Well, Tory MLAs have been spending up to $50,000 a year on gifts including “including golf balls, fridge magnets, books and watches.” One wonders if Santa’s gift budget is that high…

2. MLAs have been claiming exorbitant bonuses:

Some MLAs have collected surprisingly high monthly living allowances, or have given huge bonuses to their constituency staff, Auditor General Fred Dunn said today in his annual report.

In one case, a part-time constituency aide earned $18,000 a year, but received a bonus of $21,500. Three other MLAs doled out bonuses of more than $15,000 a year.

“The current guidelines that allow for unrestricted lump-sum payments to be made to employees are counter to the goal of equity and put the integrity of the system as a whole at risk,” Dunn writes in the report.

Out-of-town MLAs are using “needlessly complex” rules to simultaneously tap several different pools of cash for their living expenses in Edmonton.

In March 2007 alone, one MLA claimed $5,425 and three others claimed $5,075 for a month for which a monthly capital residence allowance was $1,750.

3. A Mark Norris aide spent $50,000 on the government tab over three years without submitting any receipts. Norris himself racked up $10,000 in undocumented expenses on his own.

All this coming after what amounted to nearly weekly patronage and spending scandals throughout September.

Considering how loudly right wing Alberta screamed against the federal Liberals for similar transgressions, one wonders how much longer they’ll put up with this.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in 2008 Alberta Election, Alberta Politics, Scandals

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at www.calgarygrit.ca and online at the National Post.

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