The province's Ethics Commissioner announced he is conducting a formal investigation to determine if Premier Alison Redford breached the Conflicts of Interest Act when the government awarded a lucrative contract to her ex husband's law firm.
In a letter [PDF] dated Jan. 4 and addressed to the Leader of the Official Opposition, Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson confirmed he has begun an investigation into what is now referred to as "tobacco-gate." The letter was in response to one sent to him by Wildrose Alliance leader Danielle Smith late last year, alleging the premier violated three sections of the province's Conflicts of Interest Act.
Redford was Justice Minister back in 2010. In the latter part of that year, the province decided to launch a $10 billion lawsuit against major tobacco companies and Alberta ended up retaining a consortium of law firms known as the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers. The consortium is made up of lawyers from Ontario and Florida as well as the Alberta firm of Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes. Hawkes is Robert Hawkes, the ex husband of the premier.
Redford maintains at the time the decision was made to retain the consortium, she had resigned from cabinet in order to run for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party and therefore did not take part in the awarding of the contract. Her critics say otherwise.
A CBC investigation last November concluded Redford was the one who made the decision that would benefit her ex husband and his firm. In a memo dated Dec. 14, 2010, written to Deputy Justice Minister Ray Bodnarek, Redford says considering the conflicts of interest and perceived conflicts of interest, among the three firms under consideration, "the best choice will be the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers."
Wilkinson will examine Redford's actions to determine if she contravened sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Conflicts of Interest Act [PDF]. Section 2 states it is a breach of the Act if a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) takes part in a decision that might benefit "a person directly associated with the Member or the Member's minor or adult child."
Section 3 provides the Act is breached if a Member uses his or her power or office to influence or attempt to influence a decision that might benefit someone associated with the Member. And under section 4, a Member violates the legislation if they use insider information not available to the public in order to further or seek to further the private interest of the Member or of another person.
One finding that may have to be made is whether a former spouse or partner falls into the category of being "directly associated with a Member."
Yesterday, Johnathan Denis, Alberta's current Justice Minister, said Redford welcomes the investigation and that the decision being looked into was based upon merit. Denis was quoted in the Edmonton Journal as saying, "The consortium offered the lowest cost of all bids received and was in the best interests of taxpayers."
It is not known when Wilkinson will complete his investigation.