Theatric and dramatic antics dominated this afternoon’s hour-long Question Period in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly.
To start the drama, the official opposition Wildrose Caucus raised a point of personal privilege claiming that Premier Alison Redford misled the Assembly by claiming she did not choose the law firm involved in a $10 billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry (the Premier’s ex-husband is a partner at a law firm awarded a government contract in the lawsuit).
Soon after raising the point of privilage, Assembly Speaker Gene Zwozdesky overruled and denied Danielle Smith and her Wildrose MLAs an opportunity to ask any questions related to the Premier’s alleged conflict of interest in the tobacco lawsuit. In response, most of the 17 MLA Wildrose caucus stormed out of the Assembly Chamber in protest (the dramatic effect was lessened when a number of Wildrose MLAs quickly returned to their seats in order to ask questions not related to the tobacco conflict claims).
In a bizarre twist, Speaker Zwozdesky held up a Government of Alberta press release as evidence that the Premier did not mislead the Assembly because the final decision to select the law firm was signed by her successor, then-Justice Minister and current Agriculture Minster Verlyn Olson. The Speaker then declared that it matters not whether the Premier selected the law firm, she did not mislead the Assembly because her successor signed the contract.
(I just had a Bill Clinton flashback).
Taking full advantage of the attention of the Twittersphere and the Press Gallery, the Wildrose Party cried foul and complained that the ruling was an affront to democracy (Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman wrote “SHILL” on the back of his notebook, leaving political watchers to suspect the message was directed at Speaker Zwozdesky). Tories claimed the rookie Wildrose MLAs simply did not understand the rules of Westminster-style parliamentary procedure.
Meanwhile, New Democrat leader Brian Mason escalated his party’s call for Premier Redford to step down (a demand which she is unlikely to acquiesce). Liberal leader Raj Sherman clumsily attempted to tie the Premier’s decision not to step down with the suspension of Gary Mar, Alberta’s envoy to Hong Kong, earlier this year. Premier Redford suspended Mr. Mar from his duties overseas after allegations that former Tory leadership candidate used his title to raise money to pay-off his political debts (he was reinstated after the election).
Since entering office, Premier Redford has tended to initially respond slowly to political crises confronting her party and respond decisively once the issue has become a political problem. Whether it be the infamous No-Meet Committee, the never ending MLA pay issues, the Allaudin Merali expense fiasco, the Tories default strategy appears to be to ignore the issue in hopes that it will disappear.
It has been five days since CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell first reported on the Premier’s alleged conflict of interest and the Tories are still stumbling through a public relations debacle that should have been easy to resolve.
Whether or not Premier Redford is in an actual conflict of interest, the Tories are doing a good job looking guilty and the opposition is only happy to help them on their way.