|Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith speaks to the media after Finance Minister Doug Horner presents the provincial budget at the Alberta legislature in Edmonton, Alberta on November 28, 2012. (Perry Mah/QMI Agency)
EDMONTON - Pressure on Premier Alison Redford over conflict-of-interest reports had her Tories on the defensive Tuesday.
As heated debate erupted on the legislature floor, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith read from a memo issued Dec. 14, 2010, when Redford was justice minister.
In the memo, Redford appears to endorse her ex-husband’s firm as the winning bidder out of the top four firms for a potentially lucrative deal to represent the province in a lawsuit against big tobacco.
The contingency lawsuit, pitched last year as massive and unique, looks to a potential $10 billion settlement. If won, the suit would be massively lucrative for its legal representation.
“The best choice for Alberta will be the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers,” Redford penned of the TRL consortium that included her former husband and long-time political adviser.
In the memo, Redford cited “perceived conflicts of interest, actual conflicts of interest, the structure of the contingency arrangement and the importance of a ‘made in Alberta’ litigation plan.”
Grilled repeatedly on the memo, Redford pointed to the fact that she was the one to raise the potential for conflicts.
“These are entirely appropriate to be raised by the Department of Justice,” Redford said.
Timing is everything, according to Tory Justice Minister Jonathan Denis, who pointed out that the choice of TRL officially fell on then-Justice Minister Verlyn Olson, after Redford resigned to run for leadership.
“The decision was made during the time she was not a cabinet minister, not the premier. I fail to see what the issue is here,” Denis said, citing a May 30 announcement from his office about the bid award.
“There’s been lots of talk and innuendo here, but there is nothing new.”
“With all the evidence suggesting, at a minimum, the perception of conflict, why did the then justice minister not stay out of the decision completely?” Smith countered, quoting Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.
Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason also weighed in.
“On top of government scandals involving the Katz donation and illegal political fundraising involving the Premier’s sister, we have a new revelation involving the premier herself,” Mason said.
Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk appeared to hope for a break.
“Just a word of warning. Pretty soon they will run out of family members of individual members of this House and of institutions that have been credible for over 100 years in this province,” he said.