Conflict of interest probe into ex-Alberta premier Alison Redford lacked important evidence: report

Mariam Ibrahim, Postmedia News | April 4, 2016 11:59 PM ET
A former Alberta ethics commissioner lacked important evidence in his conflict of interest investigation into how Alison Redford awarded the province’s lawsuit against big tobacco companies, a new report has found.

Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci’s independent review of Neil Wilkinson’s 2013 investigation into Redford’s handling of the file found the former ethics commissioner wasn’t given more than a half-dozen relevant emails and briefing notes.

“The information that was not available to the ethics commissioner raises questions that bear on the subject matter of the … investigation,” Iacobucci said in his 27-page report released Monday, which cost the Alberta government $160,000.

Iacobucci recommends the government refer the matter to current ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler to determine if a new investigation is needed.

“Members of the public will continue to harbour doubts about the propriety of the selection of external counsel to conduct the tobacco litigation, and this may lead to an erosion of confidence in the administration of government in the province more generally,” he wrote.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley has referred the report to Trussler and asked for her advice even though Redford is no longer a sitting MLA. The former scandal-plagued MLA resigned as premier in March 2014 and then gave up her Calgary legislature seat less than six months later.

“I think people still have outstanding questions arising from this matter and I think it’s really important that we do our absolutely level best to ensure that those questions are answered, and that the public can have confidence in their government and particularly in the ministry of justice,” Ganley said.

The NDP government appointed Iacobucci to independently review Wilkinson’s investigation in December.

Wilkinson launched his investigation after it was revealed the former premier, while justice minister, chose the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers Consortium to represent the province in its $10-billion lawsuit against the tobacco companies.

Redford’s ex-husband, Robert Hawkes, was a partner at one of the firms included in the consortium; however, ex-spouses aren’t named as a potential source of conflict in the province’s conflict of interest laws.

Government documents show the consortium ultimately chosen for the litigation in 2010 had originally been ranked last out of three potential firms interviewed for the contract.

A review committee drafted a briefing note stating the consortium was ranked last, “primarily due to their lack of depth and the lack of any presence in Edmonton,” Iacobucci’s report said.

A further revision of that note included a recommendation that Redford instead select between two other firms — Bennett Jones or McLennan Ross — for the contract.

However, that recommendation was ultimately removed from the briefing note delivered to Redford. Instead, it said: “All three consortiums have unique strengths and weaknesses, and the decision really depends on what ‘package’ is most appealing to government,” according to Iacobucci’s report.

The retired justice said in his report he found no evidence that Redford knew about the earlier draft or the review committee’s initial recommendation.

Both Hawkes and Redford were among the 15 people interviewed by Iacobucci for his report, which examined only whether Wilkinson had all the necessary information at his disposal in 2013.