How low can a Minister of “justice” go and how thick grows rot in lawfirms?

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer failed to disclose donation from inquiry commissioner Personal emails show Steve Allan helped finance Schweitzer campaign event by Charles Rusnell, Jennie RussellCBC News, Jan 29, 2020

Alberta’s chief electoral officer will review an undisclosed donation to the nomination campaign of Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer from Steve Allan, the prominent Calgary businessman Schweitzer appointed commissioner of a public inquiry into alleged foreign-funded attacks on Alberta’s oil industry.

“Now that it has been brought to our attention, we will be contacting Mr. Schweitzer to see what is going on,” Drew Westwater, the province’s deputy chief electoral officer, said Tuesday. 

Details of the unreported donation are contained in personal emails obtained by CBC News from the court record in a legal challenge of the inquiry by Ecojustice, the environmental law charity.

In November, CBC News reported that as Schweitzer sought the United Conservative Party nomination in June 2018, Allan and two of his close friends and business associates — Quincy Smith and Bob Taylor — organized a reception for Schweitzer at the Calgary Golf and Country Club.

The new emails show the invoice from the event totalled nearly $1,250. Allan paid it on behalf of the three men, asking the others to write him cheques for their share of the cost. But Schweitzer’s financial disclosure from the nomination contest does not list any donation from Allan, Smith or Taylor.

Westwater can’t speak about specific cases but said donations of goods and services over $250 must be disclosed under the province’s election finances act. Donors’ names also must be disclosed.

In an emailed statement, Schweitzer’s press secretary Jonah Mozeson said the minister “is not aware that Mr. Allan, Mr. Smith and Mr. Taylor provided then-candidate Schweitzer’s campaign with the invoice in question as no donation receipt was requested and he was therefore unaware of any expenses incurred.”

The statement said Schweitzer is now “reviewing the invoice to determine whether an in-kind contribution receipt is appropriate.”

But the internal emails show Schweitzer’s legal assistant at Dentons, the law firm where he worked, sent the event invitation to nearly 200 contacts on behalf of Allan, Smith and Taylor. “We would like to invite you to join us for a glass of wine at an event that we will be holding for Doug,” the message stated.

The June 30, 2018 invoice from the Calgary Golf and Country Club included 19 bottles of wine, 18 beers, coffee, tea and cookies.

In a letter sent by his lawyer, Allan referred any questions about the donation to Schweitzer and the chief electoral officer.

NDP ethics critic Heather Sweet said any donation, whether a gift in kind or a financial donation, must be disclosed. She said she found it hard to believe that Schweitzer wouldn’t know the donation had to be disclosed.

“This is a member of the UCP caucus, who is now the justice minister, who went through a leadership race. [Schweitzer] should understand the responsibility that all candidates have when it comes to disclosure of donations,” Sweet said.

Allan had office in Dentons 

In June 2017, Allan wrote an email introducing Schweitzer to philanthropist Nancy Mannix, a member of one of Alberta’s wealthiest families. Allan referred to Schweitzer as “a young lawyer who has an office down the hall from me at Dentons.”

In an email, CBC News asked Mozeson, Schweitzer’s press secretary, if Allan had worked in the same office as Schweitzer.

Mozeson emailed a reply that was not intended for CBC News.

“Do we say that Allan rented an office in the Dentons business area or do we say that there seems to be no record that Steve Allan worked at Dentons and we don’t want to comment on statements he made so you’d have to ask him? I think the second,” Mozeson wrote. 

A minute later, he sent an email asking CBC News to “please disregard” the errant email. Mozeson later confirmed that Calgary Economic Development, for which Allan was then board chair, rented space from Dentons. 

Schweitzer is already facing conflict-of-interest allegations surrounding Allan’s appointment, following CBC News reports that revealed Allan had campaigned for Schweitzer, donated to his UCP leadership campaign, and, as commissioner, had directed a $905,000 sole-source contract to Dentons.

Schweitzer is a former partner at Dentons. Allan’s good friend, Quincy Smith, and Allan’s son Toby are still partners at Dentons.

As commissioner, Allan also hired the accounting firm Deloitte to assist the inquiry. His former business partner, Bob Taylor, is a senior accountant at Deloitte.

Renewed calls for ethics investigation

On Tuesday, CBC News reported that personal emails show that since 2017, Schweitzer had courted, and received, Allan’s political support. Allan hosted a meet-and-greet for Schweitzer at Allan’s home a month before the 2019 provincial election.

But the emails show Allan tied his support for Schweitzer to the candidate’s public support of the Springbank Dam, which would directly benefit Allan, who had lost his home in the 2013 Calgary flood.

Those revelations prompted conflict-of-interest experts to renew calls for an investigation into Schweitzer by Alberta’s ethics commissioner.

Allan’s lawyer says it is baseless to claim Allan’s support was linked to Schweitzer supporting Springbank, or to giving him an appointment.

Schweitzer, through his press secretary, said it would be “ridiculous” to suggest Allan’s political support should bar him from being named inquiry commissioner. And he said the Springbank proposal is broadly supported by Calgary constituents, and the NDP and Alberta Party candidates in the 2019 election.

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