Danielle In QP, November 28: Tobacco Recovery Lawsuit

 
Ms Smith: Mr. Speaker, we should be talking about the fiscal deficit today, but I’m disappointed to have to be raising questions about the ethical deficit here. The awarding of a multibillion dollar Alberta government legal case to a Calgary law firm with close ties to the Premier raises disturbing questions of conflict of interest, perceived conflict of interest, manipulation of the process, and at the very least horrible judgment on the part of the then Justice minister, now Premier. How could the Premier let herself and the province’s reputation be so badly damaged?

Ms Redford: Mr. Speaker, our Minister of Justice has spoken very clearly to the process that was followed. The suggestion that the Leader of the Opposition is making is absolutely inaccurate and false. In fact, when the decision was made by the government of Alberta as to who to retain on this file, I was not the Justice minister. I was not a member of cabinet. I was an MLA running to be the leader of this party. I will tell you that we are confident that the decisions that have been made to recover billions of dollars from the tobacco industry are in the hands of a firm that was of good service to taxpayers, cost effective, and selected by other jurisdictions.

Ms Smith: Mr. Speaker, since documents that I will table make it clear that it was the Justice minister’s sole decision and since the conflict of interest legislation states in section 3 and section 4 that a member is in breach if he or she uses their office to improperly further another person’s private interest, isn’t it plain to the Premier that this is exactly what occurred?

The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Justice.

Mr. Denis: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I hope that the hon. Leader of the Opposition will also table the document from the previous Justice minister, the now agriculture minister, in June of 2011, when he was the one that signed the final item deciding to go with TRL.

Ms Smith: As I say, Mr. Speaker, I will table the December 14, 2010, document with the former Justice minister’s signature on it which shows that she was the sole decision-maker in this case. When one of the principals in this firm in question is the Premier’s ex-husband, a 20-year political associate, a campaign regular who even led the Premier’s transition team when she became Premier, you have to ask: why didn’t she recuse herself as Justice minister in making this decision?

Mr. Denis: Mr. Speaker, there’s been lots of talk and innuendo here, but there is nothing new. This has been public for months, literally for months, yet when it suits a certain political advantage to bring it up, they bring this up against the Premier today. I think this House deserves better.

The Speaker: The hon. Leader of the Opposition. Your second main set of questions. [interjections] You have the floor, hon. member.

Ms Smith: Well, Mr. Speaker, let me refresh the Premier’s memory because the Justice minister’s memo, the December 14, 2010, decision granting the contract to the consortium that includes her ex-husband and long-time political confidant’s firm cites “perceived conflicts of interest, actual conflicts of interest, the structure of the contingency arrangement and the importance

of a ‘made in Alberta’ litigation plan,” which is why, she writes “the best choice for Alberta will be the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers.” How could the Premier miss the perceived conflicts of interest that were evident when she was making the individual decision to select this firm of her former husband?

Mr. Hancock: Point of order.

The Speaker: Government House Leader, you rose for a point of order at 1:56. That’s been noted, as has the other one that was raised at 1:48.

The hon. Minister of Justice in response.

Mr. Denis: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. What the hon. Leader of the Opposition does not disclose is that there was a committee that had appeared before this. It was an independent review committee. There was also a tendering process where there were four firms that expressed matters of interest. As I mentioned in the earlier exchange, the final decision was made by the previous Attorney General, who is now the minister of agriculture, who is in no way anywhere near connected to this alleged conspiracy.

Ms Smith: I’m afraid, Mr. Speaker, that’s simply not true.

Mr. Hancock: Point of order.

Ms Smith: I will also table the January 13, 2011, status update, which states . . .

Mr. Anderson: Sit down, Dave.

Speaker’s Ruling

Decorum

The Speaker: Hon. member, telling your own leader to sit down is not an appropriate statement to be making. It’s an interjection that ought not be tolerated here. Let’s cut down on the interjections.

As much as people appreciate a little bit of applause, we’ve been pretty lenient over the years to allow applause at times on both sides of the House. However, there is a time when we can maybe shorten it a bit to move on with question period.

The hon. leader.

Tobacco Recovery Lawsuit

(continued)

Ms Smith: . . . “no one consortium stood out above the others” in the process the Justice minister just spoke about, but “shortly before Christmas, [the then minister, the Premier] selected the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers” above Alberta-based Bennett Jones, above Alberta-based McLennan Ross. Why is it that it came down to choosing a Florida firm with Alberta connections to a smaller firm tied to the Premier.

Ms Smith: . . . “no one consortium stood out above the others” in the process the Justice minister just spoke about, but “shortly before Christmas, [the then minister, the Premier] selected the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers” above Alberta-based Bennett Jones, above Alberta-based McLennan Ross. Why is it that it came down to choosing a Florida firm with Alberta connections to a smaller firm tied to the Premier?

Mr. Denis: Again, Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition is quoting a newspaper article, and I thank her for that. As I’ve dealt with the particular issues, if you look at all the other firms that expressed interest, every one of them talks about being part of a national office. Well, we want a consortium that acts solely for Alberta taxpayers in the event that there’s another opportunity to deal with our particular issue and it is not the same interest as another province’s like B.C. or Saskatchewan. We need a made in- Alberta solution, and that is what we got in this process.

Ms Smith: It’s obvious that the four other provinces involved in tobacco litigation saw no problem having Bennett Jones as their lawyers, no problem at all. Won’t the government admit that this decision had nothing to do with the litigation and everything to do with political reasons?

Mr. Denis: Mr. Speaker, I say once again that I’m fully confident that Albertans are receiving the best possible legal representation pursuant to this open and public tender. We picked the one of the four that best represents our interests. Again, it’s on a contingency basis, so if this firm receives no money, guess what? The Alberta taxpayer pays no money.