Hard pills to swallow: Tories duck-and-weave amid allegations of conflict.

Alberta Doctor Tobacco
What do doctors and the tobacco industry have in common? They were the hottest issues in Alberta politics this week.

A CBC investigative team, led by intrepid reporter Charles Rusnellreported this week that Premier Alison Redford may have put herself in a conflict with the government’s selection of a legal consortium in a $10-billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry. Premier Redford’s ex-husband, Robert Hawkes, is a prominent Tory Party member and partner in a law firm that is participating in the consortium.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader
Alison Redford

Responding to opposition attacks, Premier Redford and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis claimed there was no conflict. To be fair to the Premier, in a province where one political party has been in power for more than forty years, it may be difficult to find a major law firm that does not have connections or has not made contributions to a political party.

The opposition parties claim to have evidence that Premier Redford was involved in the decision making process. NDP leader Brian Mason even called on the Premier to step down to allow the Ethics Commissioner to  investigate the allegations.

This story fits the corruption narrative curated by Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Party and provides another familial connection to the Premier for the opposition to criticize (no media outlet has mentioned this conflict in relation to a story from earlier this year connecting Ms. Smith’s party and the tobacco industry).

Yesterday afternoon, the Premier was expected to address the accusations at a scheduled media conference at 3:00 p.m. The media availability was cancelled with short notice at 2:40 p.m., and a brief media scrum was rescheduled later that day at 4:30 p.m.

Whether or not conflict accusations against Premier Redford are overstated, the government’s duck-and-weave reaction is creating a perception that they are avoiding responsibility.

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Discussions will resume between the Tories and the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) after a week of warring words culminated with government radio ads and leaflets in Health Minister Fred Horne backyard.

Fred-Horne-Alberta
Fred Horne

The dispute between the doctors’ association and the provincial government, which has lasted nearly two years, took a defiant political turn in this year’s spring election. With only a few weeks before the vote, which was expected to be close, the AMA released a series of newspaper advertisements criticizing the long-governing Tories. The ads were easily interpreted as a tacit endorsement of the right-wing Wildrose Party, which made some sort of political confrontation inevitable after the Tories were re-elected.

An important element to this dispute goes beyond financial compensation. The Tory government is challenging the role doctors hold as the gatekeepers of our public health care system through the creation of Family Care Clinics as an alternative to Primary Care Networks.

First proposed during last year’s PC leadership contest, Family Care Clinics were initially used to differentiate Premier Redford from front-runner Gary Mar, who was Minister of Health & Wellness when the initial funding for Primary Care Networks was given to doctors.

Created as a joint-venture between the regional health authorities and the AMA following the 2003 Canada Health Accord, Primary Care Networks were intended to improve access to front-line primary care for Albertans. In some cases they have been successful, but according the Alberta’s Auditor General, the Primary Care Network model lacks accountability.

The Family Care Clinic model remains somewhat intentionally vague and flexible, but its introduction has been enough to raise criticism of doctors, who would not necessarily be in complete control of the new model (Premier Redford has talked about an increased role of health care teams).

13 thoughts on “Hard pills to swallow: Tories duck-and-weave amid allegations of conflict.”

  1. I was shocked at how badly the PCs handled this. Claiming that she wasn’t the minister at the time that the decision was made is not going to hold any water unless they can bring some evidence that the decision would have been the same without her. They should have known that. An apparent conflict of interest in a decision is a bad thing, but not fatal. You can argue that the decision was still the right one, or that worse conflicts existed with the other options. But claiming that it just didn’t happen, when all the evidence says that it did? That’s trading a bad problem for a worse one. People find pecuniary conflict of interest confusing. Rob Ford sure does. But lying? People understand lying.

  2. While it would be difficult to find a law firm that donated to the Tories, that’s not the substance of the allegation here. Alison Redford allegedly awarded a $10 billion legal contract to the firm of her ex-husband. A man who later led her transitional team.

    Wildrose is against increasing taxes on tobacco products. And Danielle Smith worked for the Fraser Institute, a known right-wing think tank that received a relatively small amount of money from the tobacco industry a decade ago.

    Not to say that Wildrose’s stance on tobacco is correct, but only a PC apologist would consider this a reasonable comparison.

  3. Redford should have known better – the optics were not good. So she could have apologized for not recurring herself on the file.
    But it is the lying that is disturbing- lying as mentioned above is something else! And dropping the F bomb shows lack of statesmanship and decorum. It is the mark of a liar that when caught, they get angry and loud as though it changes it. This is basicallyy showing the guilt. Anybody who has children should recognize this one

  4. Meanwhile,, Honey Boo Hoo and her band of clowns and rabble rousers have stopped the business of a 40 billion dollars a year corporation called Alberta over a stupid issue like this, granted Alison has no business taking to court a business you are expecting to pay you taxes.

  5. Does the fact that the government is now reopening talks with doctors mean we get our money back from the ad companies we paid to tell Albertans who well paid our doctors are?

    Sheesh!

  6. Thanks William. I am glad to see someone else noticed how inane this is.
    “Best offer. Final offer. Forced to close the file because of fiscal realities”. Ads at public expense to push a political decision and then ….. “whoops never mind”(shades of Emily Litella)
    “Final and necessary decision” now off the table. “Let’s talk again. :(
    Shows how poorly the P.C.s are able to manage just about any file before them these days. They may have just gotten a new mandate, but by all appearances, they are totally worn out and in way over their heads. Otherwise, they would not be wildly plunging back and forth on issues and changing their stories by the week, day and sometimes by the hour.

  7. All Ms Redford needed to say was, “Conflict of interest? What conflict? We were only married for five years, and we divorced over 20 years ago. Mr. Hawkes is a lawyer with one of the firms in the consortium, true, but won’t be working on this file, and anyway they were the best firm to bid.” Case closed; move along, nothing to see here folks. But no, she had to try and wiggle out of accountability for a decision she was clearly involved in, instead of arguing that she made the right decision.

    Of course the one-party state that is Alberta has cronyism issues, but had the Premier not tried to fib her way out of this, this particular instance would have been a non-story.

  8. Wow, bartinsky, thanks for pointing out that the Alberta gov’t and all of the services it provides have completely “stopped” ever since the opposition parties had the nerve to ask about this issue in Question Period. I hadn’t noticed!

  9. No people, I’m not a screaming leftie who expects someone else to pay my way, like all you liberals and NDPEEers here. And ,seriously and hand, I’m not bi-polar, I despise the cold.

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