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Without access to contracts, Ethics Commissioner ruling on tobacco-gate ruling tarnished

EDMONTON, AB (December 4, 2013): Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson cannot rule on whether or not Premier Alison Redford was in a conflict of interest as long as the PC government refuses to release information on the bids received for the government’s $10-billion lawsuit against tobacco companies, Wildrose Justice Critic Shayne Saskiw said today. 

Through a Freedom of Information Request (FOIP), the Wildrose has asked for all records and correspondence related to the contract tendering, selection process and request for proposal connected to the Government of Alberta’s tobacco lawsuit rewarded to the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers (ITRL) consortium. However, Alberta Justice has blocked over 1,000 pages from being released citing Sections 16, 17, 21, 24, 25 and 27 of FOIP legislation.  Wildrose is currently appealing the decision. Saskiw said that without all the information, the Ethics Commissioner cannot make a ruling without knowing if ITRL made the best offer for taxpayers. Wilkinson’s ruling is expected shortly. “One has to question how the Ethics Commissioner has apparently come to a decision without all the information about proposals and correspondence put before him,” Saskiw said. “We know Premier Redford made the decision to award this contract to a law firm with deep political ties to both herself and the PC party.  What we don’t know is what influenced this decision and if taxpayers got the best deal.” During the appeal process, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has recused itself from hearing further inquiries due to a potential conflict of interest as they are represented regularly by Calgary-based Jensen, Shawa, Solomon, Duguid and Hawkes, a firm that is part of the ITRL consortium. The Wildrose has requested that the case be turned over to a current commissioner from Saskatchewan or British Columbia, whichever can demonstrate a more specialized knowledge of Alberta’s legislative framework compared to other provinces. After four years of battling the release of information on the number of children who have died in care and after resistance to the release of expenses from former health boards, including former Capital Health Chair and current Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson, this latest move to block information by Alberta Justice highlights a culture of secrecy within the PC government, Saskiw said. “This culture of secrecy extends from the top down and is a part of a deeply held belief by this government that it should be free from public scrutiny,” Saskiw said.  “PC MLAs have even voted to maintain an MLA gag order that stops tough questions from being asked as long as the Premier continues to be under investigation. It’s shameful and Albertans deserve better."