Calgary Election: What we know about the Alberta government flight manifests
We wanted to share our investigative work behind this story we didn't tell
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It’s often referred to as bending the narrative.
Seeing a piece of random information that has no context and no background, yet presented singly, without corroboration, to serve as a way to tell a story the way one wants it told.
Whether it’s a Mainstreet poll where people question the methodology (because it has Nenshi trailing), or an Ask Canadians survey where people question the methodology (because it has Smith trailing) - both competing sides shred the other side and the veracity of the information because it doesn’t portray the story they want out there.
It’s the nature of today’s political world.
A couple of weeks back, rumours of mayoral candidate Bill Smith flying on government planes while he was PC Party of Alberta president made the rounds.
Incumbent mayoral candidate Naheed Nenshi also made comments regarding Smith flying with former premier Alison Redford, or taking other government flights.
“This is obviously a guy who is more used to being a passenger on Alison Redford’s jet than actually being on a bus or a train,” Nenshi said during an Oct. 6 Green Line press conference.
To that, Bill Smith replied: “I never travelled with Redford, I don’t know where he’s getting that from.”
Yesterday (Oct. 12), some government flight manifests started gaining traction on social media, many with the question of why media haven’t told this story about B.Smith (or in one case Bill Smith) being on at least 10 flight manifests for government-owned aircraft between April 9, 2009 and Dec. 31, 2013.
These social media posts insinuated that mainstream media had ignored the story, or simply didn’t look into it. I mean, why wouldn’t someone want to bring down the man who could be mayor of Calgary, with a cut and dry story showing he took flights that, as a volunteer party president, he never should have - for partisan reasons.
I’m writing this today because the information available doesn’t back up the claims being made - and given the social media story its creating, we felt compelled to lay out our work.
It’s easy for those on social media to push out a screenshot, screaming for blood, without actually knowing the truth, doing any research and without an ounce of accountability. It’s the beauty and folly of the medium itself.
Once we learned of the possibility of the issues with government flights (more than a week ago) we began investigating, rounding up the publicly available manifests on the Alberta government website.
Here’s what we found.
Mayoral candidate Bill Smith was president of the PC Party from 2009 to late (November) 2012 - so it somewhat disqualifies (in our opinion) the April 2013 flight manifest showing Bill Smith (full name) taking a trip to the oilsands. That's the one making the most noise, so lets address it first.
On that April 2013 flight were Siemens Canada executives - including CEO Robert Hardt and Maria Ferraro – on a trip to tour the Alberta oilsands. Among the names on the manifest was a Bill Smith. There was a Bill Smith that was a senior Vice President for Siemens at that time.
However, when contacted by Metro, that Smith denied he had ever taken a Government of Alberta flight, but he had taken tours of the oilsands.
Metro was able to confirm, with nearly 100 per cent certainty that the passenger on that airplane was NOT Bill Smith the candidate and that no one outside of Siemens and the Alberta government was on that flight.
Further, since candidate Bill Smith wasn’t PC party president at that time, it’s highly questionable he would have been on that flight with Siemens executives, with one passenger (although denied) coincidentally with the same name.
For the vast majority of flights including the name B. Smith, it should be noted that upon review of the manifests, cross-referenced as fully as possible with the current Alberta government directory, most were occupied by bureaucrats of all levels, with the occasional area MLA, for meetings or government announcements.
During the 2009 to 2012 timeline, Alberta government flight manifests only had first initial and last name. In this case it was B. Smith. As of today, there are 15 B. Smiths who work for the Alberta government, though we concede that number was likely different during the time period in question. One Bill Smith works for the Alberta government today, and works in IT services.
Attempts were made to match up the B. Smiths with the departments noted on the manifest, and then attempts were made to contact as many of those B. Smiths as possible.
Of those reached by Metro, most didn’t recall the specific flights, because many indicated they’d been on a number of similar types of flights and to single one out given the timeframe was a challenge.
The next step was to contact many of the other bureaucrats who flew on those flights in question with the B. Smith on the flight manifest.
After speaking with several people, few, if any, of those passengers could recall a specific flight, let alone a B. Smith who may have flown with them. Some could, however, identify a B. Smith in their department who could have been on those flights. None of those identified were a Bill Smith.
This exercise was done for all of the flights. No evidence of candidate Bill Smith being aboard these flights could be corroborated with others aboard those flights.
Of these flights with B. Smith, one had former MLA Ray Danyluk aboard. When contacted by Metro, though refusing to be directly quoted, he did say that Bill Smith was not aboard his flight. He went on to say that the PC party did occasionally charter its own flights, and Smith MAY have been aboard a flight of that nature.
Metro has been told that several people can confirm candidate Bill Smith was on the government of Alberta flights, yet none of those people are willing to come forward on the record. One person who did speak with Metro said Smith bragged about being on those flights, but this person couldn’t provide specifics on date or purpose of the flights, and also couldn’t say if they were Alberta government flights or PC party charter flights.
Given this information, or lack thereof, we didn’t feel - despite our efforts - confident in putting out a story of this nature given the sensitivity of this election.
We are not, in any way, stating conclusively that candidate Bill Smith did not fly on a government airplane.
We can confidently say that given the information available, it's not possible to confirm his participation in a government flight.
What further muddles this investigation, however, is a CBC report that showed several inconsistencies and irregularities found in Alberta government flight manifests, including the auditor general’s findings that false passengers were booked on at least a dozen government flights.
We were not able to go back through those flights to corroborate if Bill Smith was, in fact, a passenger on those flights.
In addition, despite the claims, we could not find a B. Smith aboard a flight with Premier Alison Redford.
So, you may be asking yourself why we’re putting this information out there.
Sometimes, despite the hours of investigation over several days, a story just isn’t there to be told.
Essentially, we’re trying not to bend the narrative.
We felt that given the attention it's garnering leading up to Calgary's election day, some context and information needed to be offered so people didn't blindly accept a social media screenshot as being the gospel.
We understand and accept that many of you will still poke holes in the information we’ve provided - and we’re OK with that. This story is likely not finished being told nor researched and it could very well have a different conclusion.
To that end, if the real B. Smith who took government flights is out there, please give us a call.