Danielle In The House, November 28: Tobacco Recovery Lawsuit

Ms Smith: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Albertans are alarmed to hear about the Premier’s potential conflict of interest, which we will explore today in question period, but for everyone’s benefit I would like to give a chronology of events so we can understand just how troubling this case is.

First, in May 2009 we have first reading of the Crown’s Right of Recovery Act, which paves the way for the Crown to sue to recover health care costs for treating smokers. In late October 2009 that act passes third reading, and nothing much happens for a year. Fast forward about a year, and this thing really begins to take shape. On October 25, 2010, the then Justice minister and now Premier announces the government’s plan to recover health care costs through the act. A week later the Justice department invites several law firms to complete an RFP to be a Crown litigator. A deadline of November 15 is set, and three bids are received.

On November 17, after the bids have been received, officials in the Justice department inquire to see if any of the applicants are involved in litigation against the government of Alberta. In essence, they changed the rules of the game after the puck was dropped. On December 7 the Justice minister receives a brief that rates all three bidders as being capable and roughly equal. One week later, on December 14, the Justice minister writes a memo awarding the contract for this made-in-Alberta litigation plan to the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers. How about that, Mr. Speaker? A $10 billion litigation suit tendered, evaluated, and awarded inside of seven weeks. When has the government ever acted this fast?

The questions arising from this warp-speed process are almost endless, but it boils down to this. It doesn’t pass the smell test.

The Premier awarding a multibillion dollar litigation suit to a firm connected to her ex-husband, close friend, political confidant, regular donor, and the man who oversaw her transition into the Premier’s chair, in a seven-week span is a matter of serious ethical concern.

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?