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Alberta premier's sister used health region money to support Tories

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Lynn Redford, sister of Alberta Premier Alison Redford, attended Progressive Conservative party events at public expense and helped organize an annual Tory barbeque while she was a senior executive at the Calgary Health Region.

Expense-claim records, obtained by CBC News through Freedom of Information, show Redford attended a Conservative party annual general meeting in Edmonton, and several fundraisers, including premier’s dinners and a golf tournament fundraiser for Tory MLA Dave Coutts.

The documents show she attended these functions, all, or in part, at the health region’s expense, claiming fundraiser tickets, travel costs, mileage, hotel rooms and even more than $200 for liquor for a Tory barbeque.

Redford also expensed a breakfast with her sister Alison, a couple months after she was first elected in 2008.

Under Alberta law, it is illegal for publicly-funded institutions, including the Calgary Health Region, to make political donations.

Lynn Redford is now vice-president of special projects for Alberta Health Services (AHS). Many of the illegal-donation expenses she claimed while at the Calgary Health Region (CHR) were approved by Patti Grier, who is now chief of staff and corporate secretary for AHS.

Board chair apologized for approving similar expenses

The Calgary Herald recently revealed that current AHS president Dr. Chris Eagle expensed the cost of attending a Premier’s dinner fundraiser in Calgary in 2011, including a limousine and airfare. Former AHS board chair Ken Hughes, who is now energy minister, publicly apologized for approving that expense.

Alberta Health Services, however, never revealed that another senior AHS executive approved those expenses. CBC News has obtained documents that show Lynn Redford also signed off on Eagle’s expenses.

CBC News showed all the documents to Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith.

“This is quite clearly a continued, systematic, systemic, institutional breach of the elections law,” Smith said.

Smith renewed her party's call for a full-scale investigation of health executive expenses dating back to 2005.

“How does somebody lose touch with what is right?” Smith said. “How does somebody lose touch with what is ethical? How does somebody lose touch with what is legal, to that extent, that they can submit these bills and then have their bosses sign off on it, and nobody thinks that anybody’s done anything wrong?

"This is what we talk about when we talk about a culture of corruption.”

Both Redford and Grier declined interview requests.

The documents show Redford also attended a provincial Liberal party convention and a speech by then federal Liberal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh at Calgary Health Region (CHR) expense. But she did not claim any expenses for attending any other political fundraisers or functions for opposition parties.

Claimed expense for Ralph Klein constituency fundraiser

In October 2005, Redford bought four tickets, at $75 each, to a Calgary-Elbow Tory fundraiser at the Palomino Smokehouse restaurant in Calgary. Ralph Klein represented the riding.

Documents show one organizer asked Redford to whom the tax receipt should be issued. The association subsequently issued a receipt to Redford at her Calgary Health Region office address. She claimed the expense and Grier approved it.

The documents also appear to show that on two occasions, Redford helped organize, on CHR time, an annual MLA barbeque in Bragg Creek.

At CHR expense, she spent hundreds of dollars on invitations, flower vases, ice, mix, fruit, and insect repellant. She also spent more than $200 on liquor for the 2007 Bragg Creek barbeque.

All these expenses were approved by Mark Kastner, the health region’s director of media relations, and later, the communications director for former Tory health minister Gary Mar’s unsuccessful leadership campaign.

“(This) shows just how prevalent and how commonplace this behavior was that nobody questioned it,” Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said. “Nobody thought twice about the fact that you had senior government officials providing financial support, and time support, for the governing party.”

The documents detail Redford’s expenses from 2005 until 2009, when all health regions in the province, including Calgary Health, were melded into what is now Alberta Health Services.

During that period, Redford, who was then the director of community engagement, met often with Tory ministers, MLAs and party officials. The documents show no meetings with MLAs from any other parties.

Expense claims ended when Calgary Health Region eliminated

But shortly after the formation of AHS, Redford’s political expense claims, and exclusive association with Tory ministers and MLAs, abruptly ended.

CBC News contacted former AHS chief executive officer Stephen Duckett. He declined an interview, but in an email from Australia, where he now lives, he said he immediately acted to stop all political spending and all “preferential access” to health care.

“I think I left AHS a better place ethically than when I found it, and attempted — not always successfully — to keep AHS mostly free of what some have described as the 'culture of corruption,'” said Duckett, who was fired in November 2010.

Bratt said it took an “outsider” like Duckett to end what he called this “accepted culture” of illegal donations and tacit Tory support.

“Would that have occurred with someone moving up the system internally?” Bratt asked. “Probably not.”

An ongoing CBC News investigation, begun last year, has so far uncovered illegal donations by municipalities, colleges, universities, school boards and other publicly funded institutions banned by provincial law from making political donations. Alberta’s chief electoral officer has opened more than 80 files.

In August, CBC News first reported that AHS chief financial officer Allaudin Merali had claimed nearly $350,000 in expenses for lavish meals, expensive wine and repairs to his Mercedes Benz while he was an executive with the Capital Health Authority.

Alberta Health Services fired Merali, and CEO Dr. Chris Eagle announced an independent audit of executives and board members of the former CHA. Alberta Health Services later backtracked, announcing that only Merali’s expenses would be audited.

Critics, however, criticized the AHS for only initially targeting the expenses of Capital Health executives, and not those of other health region executives.

These latest revelations caused New Democrat Rachel Notley to renew her party’s calls for an independent inquiry into election- financing irregularities in Alberta.

“Quite frankly, I think that that’s what you need; an independent inquiry (by) someone who is not beholden to the premier, and to this Conservative government,” she said, adding it is the only way to end the culture of illegal donations that has taken root in the province during more than four decades of Conservative rule.