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Privatization of Alberta's air fleet will cost citizens money and change nothing

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Jim Prentice

Privatization of the Alberta government's four-plane air fleet, announced this morning by unelected Premier Jim Prentice at his first official news conference, makes plenty of political sense, but will end up costing citizens more and change nothing.

This is always the pattern with the privatization of public services. Now, in addition to having to pay for airplane services for the top dogs of the provincial government, we taxpayers will have to build in a margin to cover corporate profits, plus higher private-sector insurance and borrowing costs.

The people who run the company that gets the government's business will make out like bandits. Employees -- quite possibly including pilots -- will see their compensation and benefits diminished. And the public will know nothing, because the details will all be hidden behind an anti-accountability cloaking device known as "corporate confidentiality."

In fact, we only know what we know about the abuses of the Redford Government because it was a public service they were abusing.

Can anyone doubt for a moment that once the dust from Alison Redford's catastrophic premiership has settled, the top level of Alberta's political elite -- whichever party happens to be in power -- won't go back to using the charter air fleet in exactly the same way as the Redford, Stelmach and Klein governments used the government's own planes?

For a spell, ministers and other officials will symbolically fly commercial. Will that last? We'll see about that. In the mean time, the use of charter flights will have to continue and grow, because Air Canada and Westjet are not about to add scheduled flights to places like Manyberries, Zama City and Spirit River. There are many such places in Alberta where our politicians have legitimate business.

Likewise, the need for private flights restricted to the premier and his or her staff will not go away, especially as elections approach.

That said, in Prentice's defence, given the excesses of the Redford Government, the purely political need to sell off the planes must have been irresistible. This is why it was predicted in this space on July 31.

This is despite the fact the four small aircraft served a useful purpose for the citizens of Alberta.

For flights within Alberta, government aircraft save time for legitimate government work and allow for double tasking by the premier and his or her staff -- exactly what Redford and her political advisors were apparently trying to do when some idiot cooked up their stupid Fakes on a Plane scheme in which made-up passengers were block booked and then cancelled at the last moment so the ex-premier and her aides could fly in privacy.

With government aircraft in a province the size of Alberta, officials can fly in and out of some of the smallest airports, work between meetings and avoid having to be paid while they line up for commercial flights.

Despite Redford's unconscionable misuse of the planes, Albertans should ponder whether we will really be better off once the aircraft are sold and the work contracted out to the high-cost private sector.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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