Speaker may rule today whether Redford misled house in smoking scandal

EDMONTON – The speaker of the Alberta legislature is expected to rule as early as today on a motion that Premier Alison Redford misled the assembly.

The motion was made last Thursday by the Opposition Wildrose party over a patronage controversy surrounding Redford’s ex-husband.

Opposition politicians say Redford mislead the legislature by claiming she was not involved in awarding a government contract to her ex-husband Robert Hawkes’ firm to handle a multibillion-dollar tobacco lawsuit.

CBC-TV and the Wildrose party have put forward internal memos and documents that suggest Redford made the decision while serving as justice minister in 2010.

Redford has said while she recommended Hawkes’ firm get the contract, the final I’s weren’t dotted or T’s crossed until after she’d left cabinet early in 2011 to run for the premier’s job.

The opposition NDP and Liberals say the evidence is so persuasive that Redford misled the house, she has lost the credibility to govern and must step aside as premier until the case is resolved.

Redford has refused to step aside and says the case is more a matter of the opposition going after her and family members.

“The department started the process,” Redford told reporters Friday.

“Minister (Verlyn) Olson was the justice minister (in early 2011) and made the decision to retain counsel. I can’t speak to that because I wasn’t part of it.”

She also said the controversy is distracting from the real work of her government.

“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.”

Hawkes is a partner in one of the law firms leading Alberta’s $10-billion lawsuit against Big Tobacco. Since the divorce, 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.

Also, 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.

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