Jim Prentice, you're in the crosshairs now (metaphorically speaking).
And if you manage to win the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party next Saturday -- which everyone except this blogger thinks is exactly what's going to happen -- in the crosshairs is where you're going to stay.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation fired a shot at Prentice on Friday evening, releasing more than 3,000 pages of his expense records from back when the front-running Tory leadership candidate held the federal Conservative Government's Indian Affairs and Northern Development portfolio.
Derek Fildebrandt, whose official title is Alberta director of the CTF, informed the National Post he received the extensive records some months after he was told they had been accidentally destroyed. Later, he said, he was informed by the federal government they had merely been mislabelled and later recovered.
The CTF said in its own news release that it filed Freedom of Information requests for the past expense claims of all three PC leadership candidates as part of an effort to ensure "Albertans would have as much information as possible in determining if the next premier’s record of expense claims were above board or not."
To those who might wonder if this is a fairly partisan approach to be taken by a self-described non-partisan "tax watchdog," presumably Fildebrandt and the CTF will review the records of influential Opposition members -- at least those who were once members of a governing party and have therefore left a paper trail behind them -- with similar vigour.
Regardless, there didn't seem to be all that much in the thousands of pages of documents for Fildebrandt to work himself into his trademark high dudgeon about.
He did discover that as minister Prentice once took a chartered plane to cover a distance he could have driven over in a couple of hours and on another occasion rode a helicopter to a U.K. airshow where he was representing the Canadian government instead of hitchhiking from London or something.
Since Prentice was legitimately working as a federal cabinet minister on both occasions, this is hardly seems to me like a scoop of earth-shattering proportions. However, the Post implied there is bound to be more, noting that Fildebrandt had only done a "cursory analysis" when he made these discoveries.
Well, we're sure to hear about it if he does discover more. The Post story, meanwhile, also quoted Fildebrandt saying he had "very serious concerns about the completeness of the records released and the potential for political interference in the process."
Thanks to the catastrophic premiership of the high-flying Alison Redford, which ended only in March, such is the distrust of the Alberta PCs in late 2014 that a press release mentioning airplane travel and expense filings carries considerable potential to persuade voters yet another high Tory official can't be trusted.
Anyone who reaches this conclusion, however, is forgetting that the events Fildebrandt is complaining about in the pages of the Post took place while Prentice was a minister in the supposedly squeaky clean and intensively supervised federal cabinet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The CTF claimed in its release that Prentice’s trip aboard the charter aircraft was "in clear contravention" of Parliament's travel rules for MPs. My "cursory analysis" of Parliament's guidelines, however, suggests it is not at all clear Prentice broke any rules -- leastways, if he can argue that the charter was the "most practical" means of transportation.
Prentice's current spokesperson argued the expenses in question were fully disclosed years ago and ruffled no feathers, the CTF's or otherwise, at the time. Given this, it’s said here Bill Anderson would have been entitled to wonder aloud about if the CTF is now pursuing an apparently partisan agenda in Alberta politics.
Instead, he worked up a fairly high degree of dudgeon of his own, huffing to the Post, "this is clearly a witch hunt! We’re disappointed that people would stoop to this level of politics."
Well, Prentice and his aides need to get used to it, if he is indeed going to emerge as the winner next Saturday, or on Sept. 20 if the leadership contest fails to produce a clear majority on Saturday and goes to a second vote.
Since the local press has already declared candidate Ric McIver a politically dead man walking, and with Thomas Lukaszuk's leadership efforts breaking up on the rocks of his cellular telephone bills, this must be what is going to happen on Saturday.
If Prentice becomes PC leader and premier, the attacks and implications from political operators of all sorts with all sorts of agendas won’t stop until he has either won or lost the next general election.
Instead of whining, then, Prentice's camp might be smarter to do some witch-hunting of their own!
This actually is politics, after all, a game played with the elbows up. Other parties and interests are bound to play hard to win the next election, just as Prentice, presumably, is going to try to do.
Note to readers: I have been called away to the West Coast on a matter of urgent family business. Alas, this means I will miss the opportunity to be at the PC vote on Sept. 6 in Edmonton. I take comfort from my belief -- which is apparently mine alone -- that the probability of a second vote on Sept. 20 is high. If I am right, I will be there. In the mean time, for those of you who want a first-hand account of the goings-on at the EXPO Centre on Saturday night, I recommend Dave Cournoyer's excellent Daveberta.ca blog. I intend, of course, to commentate on the developments in Edmonton from one province away.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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