Danielle In QP, December 4: Tobacco Recovery Lawsuit

Ms Smith: Mr. Speaker, your ruling yesterday did nothing to remove the cloud of doubt that lingers over the Premier’s handling of the tobacco lawsuit awarded to a law firm that includes a number of her close associates, including the chair of her transition team. How can the Premier explain this document, action request 39754, dated November 17, 2010, where the ADM of legal services references the timeline that includes the minister, now the Premier, making a decision in early December?

The Speaker: The hon. Deputy Premier.

Mr. Lukaszuk: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps it would serve all of us well if I reminded the House that while Her Majesty’s irresponsible opposition tried to divert this House’s attention on matters that are perhaps distracting and capture their imagination, this House actually has been very successful in passing some great legislation for Albertans. We stayed focused. [interjections] We passed the Education Act for our children, for all children of Alberta not only for today but probably for the next 20 years. I’ll give you a list of others later.

The Speaker: The hon. leader.

Ms Smith: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would note that the government has refused about a hundred amendments that have been proposed by the opposition.

Given that another action request, 40333, dated January 13, 2011, has the ADM of legal services noting that, quote, shortly before Christmas the minister, now the Premier, selected the Jensen consortium, what does the Premier have to say about this document?

Ms Redford: Mr. Speaker, I am very proud that I was the Minister of Justice, and at the time that I was Minister of Justice, we decided to sue big tobacco. We did that on behalf of Albertans because we know that it’s important to recover those health care costs. [interjections] Being the minister, we certainly know that in the department there was a process in place, which I was involved in, in terms of progressing the selection, and a decision was made to retain a firm in July of which I had no part. [interjections] But I am very proud of the fact that as Justice minister we decided to sue big tobacco when that Leader of the Opposition has said that she wouldn’t.

The Speaker: Thank you.

The hon. Member for Airdrie has risen on a point of order at 1:52. It has been noted. I’d just ask that we curtail the interjections. We have the right to ask questions as we see fit within the rules. We have the right to answer them as certain members see fit. Let’s abide by that.

The hon. leader.

Ms Smith: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We are not disputing the decision. We are disputing how the decision was made. Given that there’s a memo stating that there will be a decision on a particular firm, another memo indicating that there is a decision on a particular firm, and a third saying that there was a decision on a particular firm, all before she left the Justice portfolio, how can the Premier still claim she didn’t make the decision on a particular firm?

Ms Redford: I think we’re reliving last week, Mr. Speaker. Last week I made it very clear that on this particular day I was not involved in making the decision with respect to which counsel was retained. Since that, we have had a number of events in this institution that, as I understand it, confirm that I can stand by what I said last week, and I will. I’m very disappointed in the irresponsible and the extreme behaviour of the opposition, who will not respect the institution of the Speaker or the Ethics Commissioner, both decisions that we will welcome.

Ms Smith: Mr. Speaker, Albertans are disappointed they can’t get a straight answer.

The Premier chose International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers to handle the big tobacco lawsuit, and we believe that there is a breach of the Conflict of Interest Act under section 3, where a breach occurs if a member uses her office to improperly influence a decision to further the private interests of another, in this instance the law firm of her close personal and political friends. The government’s position seems to be that the Premier had no conflict, but if she did, some other Justice minister made the decision. How can they still insist that no one did anything wrong?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Justice.

Mr. Denis: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. This is the same question we’ve had the last few days, and it’ll be the same answer today. June 21, 2011, very important day, the longest day of the year in that particular year: that is when the contract was formed to hire TRL. There was no binding obligation prior to that. I would suggest that this hon. member should get back to talking about highways, roads, schools, police, things that matter to Albertans.

Ms Smith: Well, Mr. Speaker, they don’t answer those questions either.

Putting myself in the shoes of the Premier, I appreciate that this is difficult for her, but I am asking the Premier to put herself in the shoes of Albertans trying to understand what went on here, and given that she believes that there is no conflict of interest under section 3 of the act, why does she refuse to accept responsibility for making the decision in the first place?

Ms Redford: Mr. Speaker, I have to say that, in fact, while I appreciate the fact that Albertans may want to talk about this – and we have been very open and forthright – this is not difficult for me because I know what I was involved in. I know when the decision was made. I stand by my personal integrity and principles.

The opposition can stand up every single day and can continue to allege that there was something inappropriate. I am proud of who I am, I am proud of the role that I had as Justice minister, I am proud of what we have done as a government in the past six months, and that is what Albertans voted for.

Ms Smith: Given that a number of responses from the Deputy Premier, the current agriculture minister, the current Justice minister suggest that the contract is good for Alberta, one must ask: why is the Premier running from acknowledging her role in choosing this particular firm? Does she feel guilty?

Ms Redford: I was listening to the answer to the last two questions, Mr. Speaker. I guess the opposition wasn’t. I’ve said that I am very proud of the fact that I was Justice minister when we as government decided to do this. I am very proud of the fact that we are continuing to pursue this litigation, and as I’ve said in this House, I believe that the decision that the Justice minister made in the summer of last year was a good decision to represent Alberta’s interests. That doesn’t change the fact that I did not personally make that decision.