“Albertans have the right to know”

The subject of expense disclosure has been prevalent lately with Alberta Health Services, the University of Calgary and the provincial government being in the hot seat. Yesterday, Premier Alison Redford announced that the government will be bringing forward an expense disclosure policy that will be in force come October with the first report being made available in December. Travel and expenses of MLAs and senior government administration will be reported every two months. In the Edmonton Journal, Premier Redford was quoted as saying:

“I strongly believe that government has the duty to be open, transparent and accountable to the people that it serves. It is the only way that people can have confidence in democratic institutions. I believe that Albertans have the right to know where, when and how their tax dollars are being used, and that it’s government’s responsibility to make that information publicly available so that the people we serve can truly hold us accountable for every dollar that we spend.”

No matter what your political affiliation, I think that we can all agree with this statement. This is why ARTICS finds it so troubling that the Calgary Board of Education continues to keep its finances shrouded in secrecy. The public should not have to depend on the Calgary Herald to discover that the CBE is spending $2.7 million on 29 full-time communications staff, almost three times as much per student as the Calgary Catholic Board. That information should have been presented in the budget, along with the budgets  and staffing numbers of every other department in the CBE. It is shameful that only two trustees, Trustees Bazinet and Taylor considered it a problem that the trustees were asked to approve a $1,168,950,000 or $1.2 billion dollar budget that was only broken down into five line items by the CBE administration. It’s a little hard to hold a system accountable for every dollar that is spent when the public has no idea where it’s being spent and the majority of the trustees don’t seem to care.

Trustee Taylor tried to bring up a discussion around expense disclosure of trustees and senior CBE administration at this week’s board meeting, but was shot down by Chair Cochrane who later told reporters, “We don’t have to stop at every board meeting and talk about everything that any trustee wants to discuss.” The issue is supposedly going to be dealt with at an October meeting. However, yesterday the government stated that they “expect that Agencies, Boards and Commissions will follow our lead and apply this policy” with the Calgary Board of Education being singled out along with Alberta Health Services and the University of Calgary by an official spokesperson. It doesn’t appear that the CBE has much choice now, and it would have been in their best interest to be proactive about such a timely subject two days ago. Perhaps next time, they won’t be so quick to decide to put off a discussion that the rest of the public is discussing now.

Update: Between the time that I wrote this post this morning and when it was approved and published this afternoon, the CBE put out a release from the Chief Superintendent and Chair Pat Cochrane, both stating that they intend to be open with their expenses, although the trustees will not discuss it as a Board or formally vote on it until October. After yesterday, it was inevitable, but we are impressed and encouraged that the CBE did not delay in announcing their intentions. Another step towards transparency is always welcomed by ARTICS! ~ Trina

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