Alberta premier says she doesn't think of former husband from 20 years ago

CALGARY – Alberta Premier Alison Redford says the conflict of interest allegations around the awarding of a tobacco contract to her ex-husband’s law firm are nothing more than nasty politics.

Redford says her split with Robert Hawkes happened more than 20 years ago and when she sees him, she doesn’t even think of him as her former husband.

“I must tell you that when I see this person, I don’t think to myself and associate that this is my ex-husband,” she told reporters in Calgary. “I think this is politics and I’ll take it at that and it’s unfortunate that it is.”

Hawkes is a partner in one of the law firms leading Alberta’s $10-billion lawsuit against Big Tobacco. While divorced, Hawkes has remained close to Redford professionally and led the transition team when she became premier more than a year ago.

The issue of how the contract was awarded first made headlines Wednesday in a report by CBC-TV using documents obtained under freedom of information rules.

On Dec. 14, 2010, Redford — who was justice minister at the time — sent a memo to her top department bureaucrat on three competitors vying to handle the lawsuit. She recommended International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers — which includes Hawkes’s firm.

The day the story broke, Redford told the house that while she weighed in on the issue in favour of her ex-husband’s law firm at the time, her successor at the Justice Department, Verlyn Olson, made the final decision in June 2011.

However, an internal Justice Department memo suggested the final decision was made by Dec. 22, 2010 — about two months before Redford left the justice job and just over a week after Redford wrote a memo saying the consortium was the best choice.

“Call made to Karsten (sic) Jensen at the successful consortium,” reads the email between senior justice department bureaucrats. Carsten Jensen is a partner in the firm with Redford’s ex-husband.

The Opposition has also pointed to a followup internal Justice Department briefing document on Jan. 13, 2011, that states, “Shortly before Christmas, Minister Redford selected the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers.”

Other emails show the winning firm being congratulated and the losing bidders being officially informed they had lost, all while Redford was still the justice minister.

Redford maintained Friday there was nothing wrong with the process and that she has told the truth about the matter.

“The department started the process,” she said. “Minister Olson was the justice minister and made the decision to retain counsel. I can’t speak to that because I wasn’t part of it.”

The NDP has told reporters outside the legislature that Redford is lying and have called on her to step down while the matter is investigated.

The Opposition Wildrose party asked Speaker Gene Zwozdesky to find Redford in contempt of the legislature because it says she misled the house about her involvement. Zwozdesky said he will rule next week.

Redford said the language around the debate is “unfortunate.”

She said opposition attacks on her are having an effect on her family, including her daughter Sarah. She pointed to a “Missing” poster the opposition had put out earlier in the fall session criticizing the amount of time she spends out of province.

“Yesterday, my daughter came home from school and said that one of the kids in the playground must have seen the news story about the missing poster … and she said one of the kids in the playground said, ‘You’re mommy’s missing, and Sarah said, ‘No she’s not, she’s in Edmonton,'” Redford said.

“I mean, this is getting silly. This isn’t what Albertans elected any member of the legislature to do and there’s lots of issues that we need to talk about and those are exactly what we should be doing, it’s getting down to the business of being MLAs and ministers and governing the province.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.