Edmonton

'Albertans will never likely find out what truly happened': Lukaszuk says of leaked cellphone bill

A disappointed Thomas Lukaszuk admits he’ll likely never know for sure who slipped his cellphone bill into an envelope and had it sent to a reporter while Lukazsuk ws vying for the leadership of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives.

Lukaszuk says leak of his cellphone bill remains a mystery

Thomas Lukaszuk thinks the leak of the cellphone bill hurt him in the race for the PC leadership in 2014. (CBC News)

A disappointed Thomas Lukaszuk admitted Wednesday he will likely never know for sure who slipped his $20,000 cellphone bill into an envelope and had it sent to a reporter while Lukaszuk was vying for the leadership of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives.

"Albertans will likely never find out what truly happened," said Lukaszuk, who added he is heartened that an investigation by Alberta's information and privacy commissioner has concluded something was "curious" in how his bill was handled by the office of former Premier Alison Redford .

"This whole file is full of mystery," Lukaszuk said.

He thinks the leak of his cellphone bill to the Edmonton Sun hurt his chances to become PC leader and Alberta's premier, and further damaged his political career.

"It is obvious that I challenged Premier Redford on a number of policy and personal issues," Lukaszuk said. "I challenged her to resign. She demoted me very quickly."

Lukaszuk said after his demotion, he was approached by opposition parties who warned him one of his cabinet colleagues was trying to give them copies of his cell phone bill, "telling them 'Here, you can use this against Lukaszuk.'

"They called me and said, 'Thomas, be careful, they're using it against you. Unfortunately, that's the dark side of politics that we don't often get to see."

Investigator didn't look for source of leak

Brian Hamilton, an investigator with the privacy commissioner's office, did not investigate the source of the information leak. "Determining who might have leaked the information was outside the scope of my investigation," he said in his report.

But the investigation concluded the office of former premier Alison Redford contravened privacy laws by using and disclosing personal information about Lukaszuk inside government.

The probe was launched after a story about the controversial bill appeared in the Edmonton Sun in August 2014 during the Progressive Conservative leadership campaign.

Hamilton's report found the billing information was first circulated in 2012 and 2013 within Alison Redford's executive council as officials tried to reduce the astronomical charges.

Hamilton found that was an understandable business purpose, but questioned why the bill resurfaced in March 2014, well after it had been paid.

"Normally you would expect those records to just be filed away and sit. The fact that was curious is that they were even revisited at all. That wouldn't be typical for a bill that's been paid," Hamilton said in an interview.

Redford staffer had asked for cell records

As CBC first reported in July, the privacy commissioner's investigation found the cellphone bills were retrieved from secure storage at the request of the executive assistant to Farouk Adatia, Redford's chief of staff.

Hamilton said he tried, but was never able to reach Adatia to ask him what happened to the documents.

When the story emerged in August 2014, then-premier Dave Hancock vowed that a thorough internal investigation would be undertaken to get to the bottom of the leak.

But according to the privacy commissioner's report, that never happened.

"I'm disappointed," said Lukaszuk, adding that he had been "told otherwise."

In December 2013, Redford had demoted Lukaszuk from deputy premier to labour minister.

Lukaszuk had criticized Redford actions

A series of spending scandals involving Redford strained the relationship between Redford and some in her caucus, including Lukaszuk. In February 2014, a scandal erupted over the cost of Redford's attendance at Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa.

On March 13, 2014, MLA Len Webber quit the Tory caucus to protest what he characterized as Redford's authoritarian style. Lukaszuk publicly declined, as other MLAs did, to endorse Redford's leadership.

Redford resigned as premier on March 23, 2014, five days before CBC News revealed she had personally ordered the construction of a private penthouse suite atop a government building under renovation near the Alberta legislature.

In late April 2014, Lukaszuk publicly criticized Redford for not attending the legislature, following further revelations by CBC News that she had flown her daughter on government flights 50 times.

Lukaszuk entered the leadership race May 30, 2014.

In late June 2014, CBC News revealed Redford had hired an international travel trip planner, who had billed more than $330,000 in expenses while travelling in advance of her to such places as India, China and Switzerland.

Lukaszuk said then Redford needed to consider whether she was still fit to serve as an MLA.

'Immoral and unscrupulous politicians'

Looking back on how it all unfolded, Lukaszuk doubts if any measure of regulation or oversight could have put a stop to what can only be viewed as an attempt to damage his leadership campaign.

"There is no law that you and I can write that will prevent immoral and unscrupulous politicians from doing what they set out to do, and this was a textbook example of immoral unscrupulous behaviour."

As for the bill at the centre of the scandal, Lukaszuk has since apologized, and explained that the charges were run up to deal with a cabinet emergency while he was in Europe.

With files from Jennie Russell