Last Friday was a good day to be former Premier of Alberta Alison Redford. Why, you ask? Was she jet setting and taking in the Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand? Vacationing on the Mayan Riviera during office hours? Planning to bring her family and friends on a business trip to the red carpet event at the Oscars? No; surprisingly, she wasn’t doing any of that. On Friday, Redford learned that the RCMP had closed its investigation into her use of the Alberta government plane. The Mounties decided not to lay a single charge against her.
Last summer, Redford took heat when the people of Alberta, who change their government as often as Toronto wins the Stanley Cup (once since 1967), noticed she had been spending a lot of time flying around on the government plane, and not a lot of time working. Albertans were furious! They came together to demand change, and they got it. Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith defected to the PCs, Redford’s former party. It was a disappointing conclusion to the Alberta Spring, but it did not distract from Redford’s alleged wrongdoings.
The RCMP took interest in Redford’s case when an Auditor General report revealed that Redford’s staff booked fake passengers on the government plane to make sure the Premier could fly solo or with a few choice friends. While flying around and avoiding work was ethically reprehensible, the police figured that messing with the flight plan could be illegal. As the investigation started, it felt like the public might receive its “gotcha” moment. All the people had to do was wait for the police to do a great job investigating a politician. Predictably, the people are still waiting.
After conducting interviews with “a wide range of individuals,” the RCMP finished the investigation. There was much ado about nothing: no charges, no follow-up, and no gotcha moment for Albertans. Another big fish wriggled off the line. It felt like a lost opportunity.
Regardless of whether Redford was innocent or guilty of forgery, uttering a forged document, fraud, and breach of trust by a public officer, people were rightfully jaded and angry that this situation arose in the first place. We’ve seen misuse of public funds at federal and provincial levels. We’ve seen lying and fake tears in the chambers of Parliament. Heck, we’ve even seen a federal cabinet minister use a search-and-rescue helicopter to fly himself on a fishing trip and then try to cover it up by pretending it was part of a military exercise. Considering this evidence, “law abiding” and “politician” seem to go together as well as “intelligent” and “Justin Trudeau.” Cue the grandiose conclusion: the justice system is broken, and all politicians are crooks!
Psych! Most politicians are decent people who would never intentionally abuse their positions. Unfortunately, most politicians don’t call the shots these days. If that strikes you as odd, that’s because it is. We are citizens of a democratic country comprised of democratic provinces, yet we live in an era in which power at provincial and federal levels is concentrated in the hands of very few people: the Premiers and the Prime Minister. Between elections, these people run their shows with little accountability. If they do something wrong, they can make evidence of their misdeeds appear or disappear on a whim. It becomes difficult to hold powerful people responsible for their behaviour.
Alison Redford is no exception. Had she and her office been immediately accountable to the public, there would be no need for revelations of impropriety or for an ultra-secret RCMP investigation. Her office would never have booked the government plane for personal reasons because, if it had, Redford would have lost her job the next day. But that’s not the way things work. For her part, Redford says she was “never concerned about the outcome” of the RCMP investigation into her behaviour. That might be the most concerning detail of all.