Edmonton·Exclusive

Redford's office requested retrieval of former MLA Thomas Lukaszuk's $20,000 cellphone bill from storage

Five months before a $20,000 cellphone bill was leaked to the media in an apparent attempt to damage Tory MLA Thomas Lukaszuk’s leadership campaign, it was retrieved from secure storage at the request of the executive assistant to former premier Alison Redford’s chief of staff.

Cellphone bill retrieved from storage five months before leak to media

Former Edmonton MLA Thomas Lukaszuk's $20,000 cellphone bill was retrieved from storage in March 2014 at the request of the assistant to former premier Alison Redford's chief of staff. (CBC News)

Five months before a $20,000 cellphone bill was leaked to the media in an apparent attempt to damage Tory MLA Thomas Lukaszuk's leadership campaign, it was retrieved from secure storage at the request of the executive assistant to former premier Alison Redford's chief of staff.

Alberta's privacy commissioner is soon expected to release the findings of an investigation into the leak of the controversial cellphone bill to the Edmonton Sun during the Progressive Conservative leadership campaign in August 2014.

Lukaszuk, who finished third in the campaign, said at the time he believed the cellphone bill was leaked strategically to damage his campaign.

The Alberta government began its own internal investigation into the leak. CBC News has learned the internal investigation determined that in mid-March 2014, Audrey Dutka, executive assistant to Farouk Adatia, Redford's chief of staff, requested a copy of Lukaszuk's Telus payment report, which included the $20,000 bill from November 2012.

A financial coordinator in the corporate services department of Executive Council retrieved the documents from a secure office, copied them, and hand delivered them to Dutka.

The government suspended its investigation after Alberta privacy commissioner Jill Clayton announced she would conduct her own investigation into the leak.

Dutka now works for the Alberta Teachers' Association. Reached by phone Monday, Dutka confirmed she had requested the documents.

Audrey Dutka says she was just doing her job when she requested the retrieval of Lukaszuk's cellphone payment report. (LinkedIn)
"I was asked to do so in my role as the executive assistant to the chief of staff," Dutka said.

She declined to say who had directed her to request the documents. But she has fully cooperated with the privacy commissioner's investigation, Dutka said.

Neither Adatia or Redford could be reached for comment. It is not known if the document leaked to the Edmonton Sun is the same one that was received by Dutka.

In an interview Tuesday, Lukaszuk called the news of the bill's retrieval "very disheartening." He said he hopes the privacy commissioner's report provides answers for which he has waited nearly two years.

"I think it is very important that documents from the government of Alberta - anyone's documents - are not leaked, particularly for political reasons, into the future," he said.

Scandals strain relationship

In December 2013, Redford had demoted Lukaszuk from his position of deputy premier. He became the labour minister.

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, officially, 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. Both Dutka and Adatia left their positions when Redford resigned as premier.

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.

Cellphone bill leaked

The cellphone bill was ultimately leaked to the Edmonton Sun in August 2014. At the time, the newspaper said the documents came from inside government via courier, using a Calgary resident's name.

Alberta privacy commissioner Jill Clayton has conducted an investigation into the leak of Lukaszuk's cellphone bill. (CBC News)
The resident denied having knowledge of the couriered documents and filed a police complaint. Calgary police investigated but eventually shelved the file without laying any charges.

Lukaszuk incurred the $20,000 cellphone bill while vacationing in Poland in 2012. He told CBC News in August 2014 that he was dealing with legal issues related to a dispute between a cabinet minister and a sibling.

He said he received a phone call in the middle of the night in Alberta from "a very distressed cabinet minister" who felt in danger. "Police were on the way. It was a very urgent situation."

Lukaszuk, the deputy premier at the time, said he called a lawyer for the cabinet minister.

"The next day, I engaged in both telephone conversations and video conferencing conversations with the premier's office," Lukaszuk said. "It was determined that we need to make sure that the cabinet minister is not in any danger, that if there is any protection services that need to be afforded, that was looked into."

Lukaszuk also told CBC News the cellphone bill's high cost came from downloading secure documents from an Edmonton law firm.

The cabinet minister's family law court file, which is the subject of a publication ban, showed the minister's sibling had sought an emergency restraining order in relation to a family dispute. The restraining order has been removed.

Opposition critics said the government should not pay the bill because it stemmed from a personal matter. Lukaszuk, however, said he would not repay the bill because he was doing government work.