EDMONTON — The Alberta legislature erupted in shouts and insults during question period Thursday after the Wildrose party demanded action on allegations Premier Alison Redford’s sister broke election financing laws and may have assisted in health-care queue jumping.
“All people should be responsible for their crimes!” Wildrose critic Shayne Saskiw told the house, bringing shouts from the Progressive Conservatives and accusations the crime remark broke the rules of debate decorum.
It was the culmination of what has been a month of rancorous back and forth accusations and insults in the chamber between the Tories and their opponents.
Speaker Gene Zwozdesky said he’d had enough.
“Unbelievable! Unbelievable!” said Zwozdesky.
“Better decorum is expected not only from each one of you, but it’s expected by the constituents you represent.
“Questions below the belt or accusations against members who haven’t had the chance to explain themselves in this house or elsewhere or in the courts are totally inappropriate.”
Premier Redford was not in the house at the time.
Zwozdesky’s rebuke came after Saskiw and Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith continued their attack on the controversy surrounding Lynn Redford.
On Monday, the Wildrose released documents acquired under freedom of information legislation that showed Lynn Redford had taxpayers reimburse her for $3,400 in expense claims to attend and host functions for Redford’s PC party.
The money went to travel, accommodation, flowers, liquor, and even bug spray for a barbecue. She also billed taxpayers for $141 to sign up and attend an Alberta Liberal party general meeting.
The expenses date back to 2005 and end in 2008 — the same year Alison Redford won a seat in the legislature and was appointed justice minister.
On Tuesday, the Wildrose provided information from legislature debates and health documents they say show Lynn Redford may have been one of the government’s designated “go-to” persons to get politicians and other VIPs preferential health care ahead of others in line.
Lynn Redford has declined to speak to reporters.
Retired judge John Vertes has already been tasked by the premier to look into the queue-jumping allegations, and begins his hearings in Edmonton on Dec. 2.
The Wildrose has urged Vertes to call Lynn Redford as a witness.
But Saskiw told the house Thursday the problem may go deeper.
“Given that the premier’s sister was referred to as the go-to fixer for politicians dealing with wait-time inquiries — partially because of her ‘good genes,’ will this government tell us when the premier or her staff personally became aware of any incidents of political fixing and queue-jumping? Or will they continue to hide and protect the government family?”
Deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk said there will be no preferential treatment for Lynn Redford or for anyone else.
“It is rather unfortunate that we’ve stooped to this level in this chamber, where we actually point out relationships of individuals and to insinuate that in any way that is going to be of assistance to that person,” Lukaszuk added.
“I think Albertans in general find that somewhat offensive.”
Lynn Redford continues to work as a vice-president in charge of special projects for Alberta Health Services, or AHS, which runs the day-to-day operations of the system.
The spending and queue-jumping questions revolve around the time she worked as an executive for the now-defunct Calgary Health region.
That region and all other regions were collapsed into the one AHS superboard in 2009.
Premier Redford declined Wednesday to comment on her sister’s case, but said it will be handled as necessary by the independent chief electoral officer and the coming Vertes inquiry.
Redford also criticized Smith for writing a letter to Vertes to get Lynn Redford called as a witness, saying that the letter tramples on the independence of the inquiry.
Health Minister Fred Horne and Alberta Health Services say they consider Lynn Redford’s case a closed issue because it happened under a patchwork quilt of expense rules for a health authority that no longer exists.
They also say AHS has since tightened up its spending and expense policies.
But Smith pointed out that in August, AHS parted ways with financial officer Allaudin Merali after he racked up $346,000 in expenses for lavish meals, butlers, and repairs to his Mercedes-Benz while working for the old Edmonton health region.
Smith noted that like Lynn Redford, Merali was working under a fuzzy regime of expense rules for a now-defunct health region, but said the government is using a double standard.
“Legal expenses, not a relative, person’s fired,” said Smith.
“Illegal expenses, the premier’s sister, not fired. Why?”
The NDP also found itself on the business end of the Speaker’s wrath Thursday when party leader Brian Mason demanded Horne rescind the wage settlement he imposed on doctors last Friday.
Not so, said Horne.
“What the government has done is it has not imposed a settlement,” he said.
“There are many areas that are left to be discussed in negotiations.”
“Mr. Speaker, that answer was entirely false!” Mason shot back.
“The minister has imposed a deal, and he’s written the conditions and he’s put it forward in public.”
Mason turned to Horne: “How can you stand there and mislead the House?”
Zwozdesky then addressed Mason: “Did I hear you say, ’Mislead the house?”’ he asked.
“I did,” said Mason.
“You may want to rephrase that question in a different way. We don’t use those kinds of terms, and I think you know that.”
Mason rephrased: “Why has the minister given information that he knows to be incorrect to the assembly?” prompting laughter from the opposition benches.
“Mr. Speaker,” replied Horne, “I have done no such thing.”
While Horne announced Friday he had imposed the deal, he later said he may be willing to meet with the bargaining unit of the Alberta Medical Association to revisit how the financial pie will be divided.
However, Horne has said the settlement calls for a maximum $463 million extra for doctors over the five-year life of the deal, and there won’t be a penny more.