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Klein Charters

Klein Charters

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Published by Charles Rusnell
Story I wrote for The Journal back in 2005 about Premier Ralph Klein's use of charter planes. He didn't want to "waste time" flying commercial.
Story I wrote for The Journal back in 2005 about Premier Ralph Klein's use of charter planes. He didn't want to "waste time" flying commercial.

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Published by: Charles Rusnell on Feb 06, 2014
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02/06/2014

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 Klein's disdain for commercial travel cost Albertans $253,025.89 for 8 flights EDMONTON -- Rock star Mick Jagger had nothing on Premier Ralph Klein when it came to first-class travel to the huge SARS-BSE Concert in Toronto in July 2003. Mick and Keith and the rest of the Rolling Stones arrived in a chartered  jet -- as did Alberta's premier and his entourage. Klein and five others flew from Calgary on a chartered Lear Jet 35, complete with leather seats and bar service, at a cost to taxpayers of $22,628.35. While the Stones rocked the estimated crowd of 500,000, Klein and several other politicians flipped burgers in a photo opportunity staged to promote the safety of Alberta beef. Documents provided to The Journal at no charge by Alberta Infrastructure show Klein is no stranger to private aircraft travel. From Jan. 23, 2003, to Dec. 1, 2004, Klein's office spent $253,025.89 on eight chartered flights to central and eastern Canada. On Jan. 22, 2003, Klein and seven other ministers, senior civil servants and staff flew to Toronto on the government's Beechcraft King Air 350, a nine-seat turbo-prop aircraft. The plane's windshield cracked on the flight and couldn't make the return flight the next day. But rather than fly back to Edmonton on a regularly scheduled commercial flight -- there are six or seven non-stop flights each day on Air Canada alone -- the group chartered a Hawker Siddely 800  jet. The  jet flew them to Edmonton and then returned empty to Toronto. The cost to taxpayers: $33,218.35. The round-trip flight by the King Air, which included an empty flight to Edmonton, cost $24,371.54. The total cost to taxpayers for the four flights by the two planes: $57,589.89, more than $7,000 for each passenger. Klein's office could have booked the entire first-class section of an Air Canada flight -- 10 seats -- one-way, last minute for about $11,200,
 
or $22,400 round-trip. "What would Martha and Henry think of these flights?" University of Alberta political scientist Steve Patten wondered of the fictional "severely normal" Albertans to whom Klein often refers. "They would be shocked." Marisa Etmanski is Klein's spokeswoman. "You know what he would say to Martha and Henry and that political scientist," she said. " 'You try and do the best job that you can in a manner that is most efficient and you assess your situation and whether it is commercial, government aircraft or charter, you just do the best that you can.' " She stressed that all the charter flights were for government business, and the documents show they were. The cost of one of the flights was shared with British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell and his officials. Earlier this month, The Journal published several stories based on 17 months of government flight logs obtained through Freedom of Information. The records revealed Klein was the most frequent user of aircraft in his government, flying an average of 19 times a month. He also racked up the most empty flights -- 87 -- in that period. When the Opposition Liberals criticized Klein's use of the planes in May 2004, he said he would continue to use the planes whenever he wanted, spurning commercial airlines because they would be a waste of his time. "I'm not going to subject myself to two or three hours out of my day to get a commercial aircraft at the (Edmonton) International Airport," Klein said. Etmanski said Klein's time "... is best spent with people and not on airplanes, and when he has access to a (government or charter) airplane, he doesn't have to cut off people or a meeting to fly commercial." But she said the premier flies commercial as much as he can. He
 
recently flew commercial on a trip to Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. A future trip to Washington and Boston will be by commercial airline and by train, she said. Patten and other political observers say Klein's penchant for flying privately epitomizes his growing detachment and isolation from average Albertans, with whom he so strongly identified with in the past. "One of the things that delineated him from other politicians was that he had that sense of what mattered to ordinary Albertans, so that they could feel connected to him," Patten said. But he said Klein has become so accustomed to power and the privileges it bestows that he no longer either recognizes or cares about how his actions, such as his use of private  jets, are perceived by the public. Patten said that years ago, when Klein was seeking the leadership of the Conservative party, he would have been the first to recognize the negative optics of travelling in private  jets. "Aside from the principle, he would have said, 'Hold on a minute, I don't want to do this. It won't look good. I won't be Ralph, the man the average guy can relate to.' "But after years and years in power, that stuff fades from importance and you lose perspective." Etmanski dismisses that analysis. Klein uses the planes so he can meet with as many Albertans as possible, she said. He knows there are no votes to be gained on a government aircraft but recognizes he needs the planes to do his job efficiently and effectively, said Etmanski. And so does the public, she said, pointing out that the premier's office, unlike The Journal, has not received a significant number of complaints about his use of government or private aircraft. "You may be receiving millions of e-mails, but we're not getting them here," she said, adding that people she has talked to outside government understand his need for the planes is similar to that of any executive of a big corporation. But Patten believes there are other signs in Klein's behaviour in the

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