Credits: Tom Braid/Edmonton Sun/QMI Agency
EDMONTON - Alberta Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson has launched an unprecedented investigation of Premier Alison Redford's role in awarding the largest litigation suit in Alberta's history.
At issue is a possible breach of the Conflict of Interest Act when, as minister of justice in 2010, Redford recommended awarding the province's $10-billion tobacco litigation contract to International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers, a consortium of law firms including that of her ex-husband.
Bradley Odsen, general counsel to the office of the ethics commissioner, said the decision to launch the investigation was made in mid-December because of "what was going on in the House, what was going on in the media."
"Wild allegations are flying around all over the place," said Odsen. "It's serious enough in terms of the integrity of the assembly that I think the feeling is that an investigation to find out what the facts really are is warranted."
This is the first ever investigation of a premier since the ethics commissioner post was created by the Legislative Assembly in 1992.
Redford has repeatedly fired back at critics with the words: "I did not make the decision.
A Jan. 13, 2011, memo from Redford's assistant deputy minister of legal services says Redford selected the Jensen consortium before Christmas 2010.
Minister of Justice Jonathan Denis responded Monday to requests for a statement from Redford's office.
"The facts here are clear. A contract was signed with International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers in June 2011, four months after Premier Redford had left cabinet to run for leader," he said.
"The decision to retain this consortium was based on merit. The consortium offered the lowest cost of all bids received and was in the best interests of taxpayers"
Denis added he welcomed Wilkinson's review.
"The premier was the primary decision-maker in awarding potentially billions in legal fees to a law firm in which she has more political and personal ties to than any other in the country," said Wildrose house leader Rob Anderson.
"This is the very definition of a conflict of interest, and the premier has shown a disturbing lack of judgment in this matter."
Liberal Leader Raj Sherman has called for Redford to step aside until an independent public inquiry is conducted.
Wilkinson's decision to investigate marks the crowning low light in a year riddled with conflicts for Redford's Tories.