Redford using extra cash to hire letter writers

By Dean Bennett  The Canadian Press
March 7, 2014 3:22 pm

EDMONTON – Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s office says it will use $300,000 of a $1.2-million boost in its budget this year to hire more letter writers.

Neala Barton, Redford’s spokeswoman, said Friday the premier needs to respond better to the high volume of correspondence from Albertans.

Barton said the goal is “to speed up how quickly we’re getting back to Albertans.”

She could not say how many new letter writers will be hired or how many are already handling correspondence for Redford.

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Earlier Friday, Barton said the figure to be spent on the hires was one-third of the $1.2 million, which would have been $440,000, but she later clarified that it was one-quarter.

She said the remaining $900,000 will be used to pay off internal contractual obligations and to hold more events to persuade dignitaries to visit and invest in the province.

The increase brings Redford’s office budget to $12.8 million — a 9.4 per cent increase from the previous year.

Opposition critics called it more hypocritical waste from a premier under fire over revelations of lavish travel spending while freezing public sector wages and letting program spending lag.

“She’s putting herself and the members of her inner circle above the very people she’s supposed to serve,” said Liberal Leader Raj Sherman. “Redford is really rubbing it in the face of Albertans.

“With $1.2 million, Redford can actually hire 20 teachers for a whole year.”

NDP Leader Brian Mason said the budget increase for the premier’s office widens the divide between Redford and Albertans.

“It’s another example of the tale of two Albertas: one for the premier and her entourage and the other for the rest of us, who are expected to make do with less.”

On Thursday, Redford’s government delivered a second consecutive budget that held the line on spending in a province leading the country in economic and population growth.

On Friday, her team fanned out across Alberta to talk about the budget.

Redford’s office said she had no events or media availabilities.

It was the end to a rough first week back in the legislature for a premier who has been hounded by opponents for weeks to repay $45,000 for a trip she and her aide took in December to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral. The trip included use of a government plane and first-class air tickets. Nova Scotia’s premier made the same trip for under $1,000.

There have been other revelations, including one that Redford billed taxpayers for a $9,000 ride back from a Palm Springs vacation on a government plane to attend former premier Ralph Klein’s funeral.

On Tuesday, Redford admitted that for over a year she had been flying her daughter and her daughter’s friends around on government planes. She repaid $3,100 to cover the cost of the friends.

She has now grounded all out-of-province government plane trips and has asked the auditor general to determine if taxpayers are getting value for money on government aircraft.

On Wednesday, when opposition members pointed out it’s against government policy for Redford to fly her daughter on government planes, she said it’s time to change the rules to reflect that “you have a premier who has a 12-year-old daughter.”

Mason said Redford is holding up her being a working mom to ignore rules that don’t work for her.

“We’ve heard from a lot of working mothers that they resent it very much,” he said.

“They struggle to balance work and family. They do not have the luxury of government airplanes to bring them back from Palm Springs. They don’t have the ability to change the rules to suit themselves.

“I think it’s actually created more resentment than sympathy.”