Premier Alison Redford cleared in ethics investigation

Alberta’s ethics commissioner has cleared Premier Alison Redford of any conflict in the awarding of a multi-billion dollar tobacco litigation contract.

Alberta's ethics commissioner has cleared Premier Alison Redford of any conflict in the awarding of a multi-billion dollar tobacco litigation contract.

Premier Alison Redford has been cleared by the ethics commissioner. (CBC)

"There is absolutely no evidence, nor even a suggestion, that the decision to engage (International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers) on the tobacco litigation furthered, or might further, the private interest of Premier Redford, her spouse or that of her minor child," Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson wrote.

Alberta Legislative Speaker Gene Zwozdesky tabled the report Wednesday.

"I welcome the final report of Alberta's Ethics Commissioner because it supports what I've always said and provides clarity to members of this legislature and to all Albertans," Redford said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon. 

"It outlines that I 'did everything that a Minister would be expected to do in serving the public interest, and did so in a forthright, objective and unbiased manner.'

"I have always taken my duties as an elected official extremely seriously and strive to uphold the public trust in everything I do."

Redford had consistently denied that she made the decision to award the contract, and her successor as justice minister, Verlyn Olson, publicly claimed he had made the decision.

But Wilkinson ruled that Redford had indeed made the decision, but did not breach the conflicts act by doing so.
"I find it is entirely appropriate that a Minister, charged with the authority and responsibility for a final decision on a matter, exercise that authority to render a decision," Wilkinson said.

"I further find that in this instance there is no evidence of arbritrariness, unreasonableness, favouritism, nepotism or anything untoward in Premier Redford's participation, as minister of Justice, in the decision to direct ministry officials to commence negotiations with the ITRL consortium."

Opposition politicians took issue with Wilkinson's assessment. 

"Even if she gets off on a technicality, I think most reasonable Albertans with a common-sense approach to this would know that she was in a conflict, and she should have recused herself from making that decision," said NDP MLA Rachel Notley. 

"She still has not admitted that she was involved in the decision," Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said. "And I think the fact that she has mislead Albertans for well over a year on this matter means that she owes Albertans an apology for not telling the truth.  I don't believe that we've gotten to the bottom of this."

Redford always denied conflict 

Wilkinson began his investigation in early January, about six weeks after CBC News reported that Redford had personally chosen her ex-husband's law firm for a $10-billion tobacco lawsuit while she was justice minister in 2010.

CBC News obtained documents through Freedom of Information which showed Redford made the decision, and senior staff and others within Alberta Justice believed she had made the final decision. The documents included emails which revealed both the winning firm, and the losing firms had been notified of the decision.

The Calgary firm, Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes or JSS Barrisers, is part of a consortium of law firms from Florida, Ontario and Alberta known as International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers.

Redford has denied she was in a conflict of interest. She said the final decision was made after she resigned from cabinet in February 2011 to run for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party. 

Redford has declined interview requests from CBC News, but Justice Minister Jonathan Denis has said the contract was actually signed by the justice minister, Verlyn Olson, four months after Redford stepped down. Olson confirmed he signed the contract, but also conceded JSS Barristers was the only firm presented to him for approval.

Denis said the government chose International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers because it submitted the lowest bid, offered to work exclusively with Alberta, and included lawyers who had successfully litigated similar lawsuits against tobacco companies.

Three firms competed for the contract: Bennett Jones, a team of McLennan Ross and Field Law, and International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers.

In a Dec. 14, 2010, memo obtained by CBC News through a Freedom of Information Act request, Redford told Deputy Justice Minister Ray Bodnarek that she had chosen International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers.

"Considering the perceived conflicts of interest, actual conflicts of interest, the structure of the contingency arrangement and the importance of a 'made-in-Alberta' litigation plan, the best choice will be the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers," Redford wrote.