Premier Jason Kenney spent over $16,000 in public money to fly three other premiers from Calgary to the Council of the Federation meeting in Saskatoon last July, Alberta’s Official Opposition said Thursday.
The July 8 Sunwest Aviation flight, which flew conservative premiers Scott Moe of Saskatchewan and Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick, and their wives, was revealed by NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley on Thursday, during consideration of the executive council budget estimates.
According to a flight manifest obtained by the NDP, 16 people were on the flight, which also included Bob McLeod, who was then-premier of the Northwest Territories.
Kenney, as Alberta premier, is also the president of the executive council.
Senior staff for the premiers were also on the flight, which cost $16,764.
The leaders were at the Premier’s Pancake Breakfast at the Calgary Stampede. The flight took them to Saskatoon for the annual Council of the Federation meeting of Canada’s premiers.
The revelation comes two weeks after an Alberta budget that made cuts to a number of programs, including a hold on indexing benefits paid under the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped to the cost of living.
Ex-Alberta premier never offered leaders flights
Notley, who was Alberta premier from 2015 until April, said she never offered flights to other provincial leaders while she was in office.
“It never occurred to me that I would need to be the one in the middle of the party going ‘Hey, you guys, I got a plane. Hop on,'” she told the legislature’s standing committee on Alberta’s economic future. “Why did we think that was a thing that we would do?”
Kenney defended the expense as building alliances with other like-minded premiers in his fight for Alberta pipeline access and fairer treatment by Ottawa. He claimed Alberta was “isolated in the federation” prior to him taking office.
“Ms. Notley, you don’t establish relations by sitting here in isolation. You do it by building the relationships,” Kenney said.
“I make absolutely no apologies.”
Notley wanted to know if Kenney asked the other premiers to pay their share of the flight. Kenney said he wasn’t sure.
She noted that the statements that came out of the 2019 Council of the Federation meeting was no stronger than 2015 when every premier signed on to Alberta’s Canadian energy strategy.
“I don’t think you needed to bribe them with a free flight after your pancake breakfast to do that,” Notley said. “That’s not building relationships.”
I make no apologies for offering Alberta’s hospitality to premiers who have our back on a series of issues.– Alberta Premier Jason Kenney
Kenney said Alberta policy allows the use of charter flights when flight schedules aren’t convenient, and they weren’t in this case.
“I make no apologies for offering Alberta’s hospitality to premiers who have our back on a series of issues,” he said.
Kenney told reporters after the meeting that the province offered “logistical support” for the premiers after they did Alberta “a solid” by coming to Calgary.
“Those premiers all came to Western Canada at their own expense. They went back to their home provinces at their own expense,” he said. “We asked them to do us a favour as Albertans by showing support for this province at a critical moment, and they did so.”
Notley countered that premiers usually pay their own costs when they travel.
“It is not a drop in the bucket for regular folks,” she told reporters after the meeting.
“This is just a sense of entitlement that the premier doesn’t understand, that Albertans can’t support when they are struggling the way they are.”