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  • When Question period is not Answer period

    What a session it has been in the Legislature this fall. As you are no doubt aware, the latest scandal involves Premier Redford’s awarding of a $10 billion tobacco lawsuit – the biggest litigation contract in Alberta’s history – to her ex-husband’s law firm when she was the Justice Minister.
    The Premier’s response to this information becoming public has been to deliberately mislead Albertans about her involvement in the awarding of the contract.
    When questioned in the Legislature, Premier Redford denied that she made the decision to award the contracts to the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers (ITRL), saying “I was not the Justice Minister at the time that the government made that decision.” She also said she had resigned her position as Justice Minister (she resigned on Feb. 16, 2011) to run for PC leader before the decision on who to award the contract to was made.
    The Premier made these statements despite the fact that there are documents, released under Freedom of Information laws, clearly showing otherwise.

    Here are the facts:
    As Justice Minister, Redford personally signed a memo awarding the contract to ITRL on December 14, 2010, saying “… the best choice for Alberta will be the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers.”
    Letters of rejection from the Justice department to the unsuccessful firms were sent on December 22, 2010.
    On January 6, 2011, an email was sent from a partner at one of the firms in the ITRL consortium to the Justice department, saying, “We were very happy to learn that we will be working with you on the health care recovery claim.”
    And on Jan 13, 2011, a memo was sent from the Assistant Deputy Minister of Justice to Deputy Minister of Justice saying, “Shortly before Christmas, Minister Redford selected the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers.”
    The evidence is clear that it was Premier Redford, as Justice Minister, who made the decision about which law firm would be awarded the contract – and stand to make billions of dollars. One of the principals in the firm she choose is her ex-husband, a twenty year political associate, a campaign donor, and the person who led her transition team when she became Premier. It is unbelievable that the Premier, as a politician and as a Minister, failed to recognize this as a conflict of interest.
    Last week, I had the opportunity question the government about this in the Legislature:

    Question Period, November 28, 2012:

    Mr. McAllister: Mr. Speaker, this is all very disturbing. It looks like the Premier used her position as Justice Minister to send a great big chunk of business to her long-time political confidant’s law firm. What we can’t dispute: we know that partner at JSS headed her transition team, donated thousands to her leadership bid, co-ordinated and organized five leader’s dinners. Now, the government claims it’s all okay. This is all above board. Well, it sure doesn’t look very good. Did the Premier think to consult the Ethics Commissioner to get an okay before this contract was awarded?
    Mr. Denis (Minister of Justice):Thank you, Mr. Speaker. What I will mention to this particular individual is that the individual he did not name – and I thank him for that – was not part of the bidding process, was not part of the lawsuit. It still has nothing to do with this particular item. I don’t know where they’re going with this.
    Mr. McAllister: Mr. Speaker, even the appearance of conflict is damaging. I think we’d all agree on that. To the Premier or anybody else over there that would like to answer: don’t you see that you are shattering Albertans’ confidence in all of you?
    Mr. Lukaszuk (Deputy Premier): For the last seven months, while this side of the House was focusing on governing Alberta and creating a bright future for all Albertans, they have shattered the confidence of Albertans in the health care system, in the educational system, in the justice system, now in the Law Society, and now undermining the process of law firms being retain in this province of Alberta. This is all that we can expect from that side of the House.
    Mr. McAllister: Mr. Speaker, we’ve seen health expenses, illegal contributions, all kinds of scandals in the last seven months. Can the Premier look Albertans in the eye, convince them that she is raising the bar on accountability and transparency or anything else for that matter?
    Mr. Lukaszuk (Deputy Premier): Would not answer the question.
    As you can see…I have quickly learned that Question Period is not Answer Period!
    The fact remains that the decision to award the contract to her ex-husband and political confidante’s law firm was clearly made by the Premier when she was Justice Minister. For her to now state the exact opposite is a deliberate attempt to hide the truth from Albertans. Wildrose believes this issue warrants a full public inquiry and we have called on the Ethics Commissioner to use the powers he has to conduct one.
    Albertans deserve to know the truth, and we tried to get the answers during Monday’s Question Period, only to be ruled out of order by the Speaker! Ironic, isn’t it, that the opposition was shut down using the very platform that we use to ask questions of the government on behalf of Albertans.