Alberta premier accused of conflict in tobacco case, Ethics expert says Alison Redford should have removed herself from decision-making process

WATCH: Wildrose leader says Redford misled Albertans about tobacco lawsuit contract (with video) by Darcy Henton, November 29, 2012, Calgary Herald
Here is a 12-minute excerpt from Wednesday’s Question period where Wildrose opposition MLA’s peppered the government with accusations over the awarding of the tobacco lawsuit contract to the Premier Alison Redford’s former husband’s law firm. The exchange got particularly heated at about the 11 minute mark following questions from MLA Rob Anderson which clearly angered the Premier. Premier Alison Redford was misleading Albertans in the legislature Wednesday when she denied choosing the law firm to represent Alberta in a $10 billion law suit against Big Tobacco, Alberta’s Official Opposition said Thursday. Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith told reporters that government documents clearly show Redford made the decision and the losing firms were notified before she stepped down from her then post as justice minister. She said it was wrong for Redford to deny that and her party will ask the legislature speaker to require the premier to apologize and withdraw the comment. Smith said numerous documents prove Redford made the decision. “Officials in justice confirm to one another that Justice Minister Redford made the call,” Smith said. “The premier simply cannot say otherwise. To do so as she has done is to intentionally mislead Albertans. Her defence is not only weak and feeble, it is just plain wrong.” Under fire from opposition parties Wednesday for choosing her ex-husband’s law firm in the potentially-lucrative case, Redford said she resigned to run for the Progressive Conservative leadership before the decision was made. “I was not the justice minister at the time the government made that decision,” she said.

Earlier in the day, current Justice Minister Jonathan Denis told reporters Redford made the decision but it was not a conflict because ex-spouses are not included in Alberta’s conflict of interest law. Later, in the legislature, he said former justice minister Verlyn Olson made the decision to hire International Recovery Lawyers after Redford had stepped down. Smith said her party will also ask the provincial ethics commissioner to investigate the “these very disturbing developments that involve the premier and her conduct.” Liberal Leader Raj Sherman sent a letter to the ethics commissioner Wednesday that also calls for an investigation. Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson said he did not plan to file a complaint about Redford to the Law Society of Alberta. But he compared the tobacco case to the conflict involving Toronto mayor Rob Ford that saw a judge order him to vacate office because he failed the recuse himself from a vote related to his charitable foundation. “This makes the Rob Ford thing look like child’s play,” Anderson said. “This is absolutely the worst scandal to hit the premier’s office in our lifetime.” Anderson said Redford’s conduct in the tobacco litigation could end up forcing her to resign. [Emphasis added]

Alberta NDP leader says Redford must step aside to clear her name in patronage scandal by The Canadian Press, November 29, 2012, Calgary Herald
Alberta’s NDP is calling for Alison Redford to step down as premier pending a thorough investigation into whether she lied to Albertans in the case of multibillion-dollar lawsuit contract given to her ex-husband’s law firm. NDP Leader Brian Mason says he’s never seen a scandal like this in all his time in elected office and that Redford cannot operate under this cloud. Redford continues to deny accusations she picked her ex-husband’s law firm to handle the province’s lawsuit against big tobacco while she was justice minister in 2010. But newly released department memos and documents suggest Redford did make the decision and that the winner and losers were formally notified while she was still in the job. [Emphasis added]

Fracas over tobacco could be bad for premier’s political health by Don Braid, November 28, 2012, Calgary Herald
Wildrose had already dragged Premier Alison Redford’s sister, Lynn, through the chamber on allegations of improper political contributions. On Wednesday, in came the shadow of Robert Hawkes, once Alison’s husband, still her friend, steady donor to her party and a key figure in her transition team when she came to the premier’s office. Wildrose alleged that Redford, as justice minister in late 2010, awarded the job of suing tobacco companies for health costs to a consortium that included Hawkes’ law firm. Waving documents obtained through Freedom of Information, MLA Rob Anderson said, “signed by you, it’s black and white Madame Premier. Why did you do this?” Anderson added that as a lawyer, he’d like to complain to the Law Society, but the president-elect belongs to “the exact firm you awarded the contract to.” That remark, coming after the personal attacks, sent Redford into a boiling fury. … Even if Redford did agree to hire Hawkes’ firm, it wasn’t illegal. Legislation says that merely dealing with a former spouse is not conflict of interest. This does not make it politically wise, though. Redford could easily have “recused” herself (the lawyers’ word for “excused”) from anything to do with the contract. But documents show that as justice minister in late 2010, she concluded the consortium involving Hawkes’ firm was the best pick. In a Dec. 14, 2010, memo she wrote, “considering the perceived conflicts of interest, actual conflicts of interest, the structure of the contingency arrangement and the importance of a ‘made in Alberta’ litigation plan, the best choice for Alberta will be the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers.” A month later, a department briefing note seemed to confirm that Redford had made a decision. “Shortly before Christmas, Minister Redford selected the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers,” it said.

Redford furious over conflict of interest allegations on the tobacco lawsuit by Keith Gerein, November 28, 2012, Edmonton Journal
An angry Premier Alison Redford, an outraged opposition and allegations of a conflict of interest provided the ingredients for an emotionally charged day at the Alberta legislature Wednesday. The animosity reached its pinnacle in question period, when Wildrose and NDP leaders accused Redford of political patronage over the awarding of a lucrative contract to a law firm that employs her ex-husband. “This raises disturbing questions of conflict of interest, perceived conflict of interest, manipulation of the process, and at the very least horrible judgment,” Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said. That was followed by an explosive exchange between Redford and Wildrose critic Rob Anderson, who suggested he might make a complaint to the Law Society of Alberta about Redford’s conduct. “The tangled web never ends, does it?” he said, noting the president-elect of the society is a senior partner at the same firm in question. An enraged Redford fired back at Anderson that he was denigrating the entire legal community. Staring down the Wildrose caucus, she dared him to make good on his threat.

The firm in question, Calgary-based Jensen, Shawa, Solomon, Duguid and Hawkes, is part of a consortium known as Tobacco Recovery Lawyers LLP representing the province in a $10-billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry. Robert Hawkes, one of the named partners, was married to Redford for five years while both were in their 20s. The two have stayed friends and Hawkes led Redford’s transition team after she was elected PC leader. The government insisted earlier this year that Tobacco Recovery Lawyers LLP was chosen through a competitive bid process in December 2010, when Redford was still justice minister. A review committee was appointed to consider three bidders. However, an internal government memo obtained by CBC and the Wildrose indicates Redford was involved in the selection. The Dec. 14 memo, from Redford to deputy justice minister Ray Bodnarek, says: “I note that the review committee considers all three firms interviewed to be capable of adequately conducting the litigation and believes that while no consortium stood above the others, all three have unique strengths and weaknesses. “Considering the perceived conflicts of interest, actual conflicts of interest, the structure of the contingency arrangements and the importance of a ‘made in Alberta’ litigation plan, the best choice for Alberta will be the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers.” … The opposition said the memo shows Redford acted improperly by picking a firm whose partners included a close personal and political friend. They said the proper thing to do would have been to remove herself from any role in the decision.

Denis said Hawkes was not involved in the bid or the negotiation, and will have nothing to do with the case. However, as NDP Leader Brian Mason pointed out, Hawkes could stand to financially benefit. Though it is expected to take years to resolve, the massive lawsuit could be highly lucrative for both the government and its lawyers, who are conducting the case on a contingency-fee basis. That means the law firms involved take on all the upfront costs, but are expected to get a percentage of any eventual settlement or award, which could add up to hundreds of millions of dollars. The Wildrose, which plans to file a complaint with the provincial Ethics Commissioner, used all nine sets of questions allotted to them Wednesday to ask about Redford’s role in the hiring decision. That led to countless shouts across the aisle and duelling points of order, forcing Speaker Gene Zwozdesky to interject several times to demand decorum. [Emphasis added]

Alberta premier accused of conflict in tobacco case, Ethics expert says Alison Redford should have removed herself from decision-making process by Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell, posted November 28, 2012, CBC News
Premier Alison Redford, while justice minister, personally chose her ex-husband’s law firm for a government tobacco-litigation contract worth potentially tens of millions of dollars in contingency fees, a CBC News investigation has found. One of Canada’s top experts in conflict of interest says Redford was in a clear conflict and should have not made that decision. Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, says Alison Redford should have recused herself from the decision-making process in the awarding of a contract to her ex-husband’s law firm while she was justice minister. (CBC) “The minister of justice, as she then was, Alison Redford, in my view behaved unethically and possibly illegally by not recusing herself from making a decision in which she had a private interest, and was in a conflict of interest situation,” said Prof. Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba.

Redford did not respond to repeated interview requests over the past few days.

As CBC News first revealed in May, the Redford government awarded the tobacco litigation contract — at $10 billion, the largest legal action in Alberta’s history — to International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers, a consortium of law firms from Florida, Ontario and Alberta. The consortium includes the Calgary firms of Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes (JSS) and Cuming & Gillespie. The two firms have close personal and political ties to both Redford and the Progressive Conservative Party. Lawyer Robert Hawkes, ex-husband of Premier Alison Redford, is a partner in the law firm JSS, and was her transition team leader on her road to the premier’s office. (CBC) Redford’s former husband is Robert Hawkes, a partner in JSS, who served as her transition team leader after she won the Progressive Conservative Party leadership race in 2011 and ascended to the premier’s office. Schafer said Redford clearly still shared a close personal relationship with her former husband at the time she made the decision to award the contract to his firm. As a lawyer and justice minister, Schafer said she should have recognized she had a conflict. “It’s a shabby situation when the chief legal officer can’t recognize such a clear-cut conflict of interest,” Schafer said in an interview with CBC News. “She is responsible for setting the ethical tone for her entire department, and indeed for her government. “And for the person who is responsible for guaranteeing the integrity and the legal soundness of decisions … for her failing to recognize, or failing to act after recognizing she was in a conflict of interest is worse than shabby — it is shameful.”

Schafer found it “somewhat ironical” Redford considered the other firms to have perceived or actual conflicts, “given that her conflict was the most blatant of all. “At the time she was making the decision, if the premier of the province or other minister were aware that she was allocating a contract to a firm in which her ex-husband was a member, they should have tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘Alison, this is not a decision you should be making,’” Schafer said. “‘It looks terrible, and it looks terrible because it is terrible. You can’t decide this impartially. The decision has to be made by someone who is not biased by a private interest.’” The documents obtained by CBC News contain no mention of warnings from department officials about a conflict of interest. Schafer said senior justice officials should have recognized the conflict. “Did none of them warn her that this wrong, that this was morally wrong, that it was unethical, wrong for the department, wrong for the government, wrong for the party, wrong for the people of Alberta?” he asked. “If nobody warned her, then the failure was on her part as the minister and on their part as civil servants.”

Law firm, lobbyist donated thousands of dollars to Tories
CBC News searched public records of political contributions and found JSS, Cuming & Gillespie, and Tim Wade, the lobbyist, gave tens of thousands of dollars to the PC Party, to Redford’s riding, and to her leadership campaign before and after her December 2010 decision to award the tobacco litigation to the consortium.

The Wildrose leader told CBC News she will be filing a complaint with both the ethics commissioner and the lobbyist registrar. “This is something that I think needs to be taken very seriously,” Smith said. “We haven’t had very many investigations in this province into conflicts of interest, into ethics violations, into violations of the lobbying registry, and I think this is something that needs to be investigated.” [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to: The political assasination of an honest politician: Daniel Breton resigns as Quebec Environment Minister

More Facts, Less Friction’ and ‘Fact or fiction’ – what’s the fracking truth?

Ernst Letter to Alberta Premier Alison Redford, June 13, 2012: To Smoke or Not to Smoke and supporting documents

Judge Rules Tobacco Companies Must Take Out Ads Saying They Lied About Dangers Of Smoking

Scientists’ optimism a ray of light under Alberta Legislature dome, but Graham Thomson doubts Competent Environmental Monitoring will begin

Alberta to seek C$10 billion from tobacco industry

Big Tobacco Battles Advertising Restrictions

Frackers follow tobacco’s lead in funding research, Industry trying to buy prestige of universities, while ties go unreported 

Potential health risks cited in New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health report on shale gas industry 

Law firm with connections to premier given share of smoking lawsuit, Redford’s ex-husband is a long-time Tory party worker ]

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