The Speaker of the Alberta legislature refuses to censure Premier Alison Redford.
The people of Alberta should not be so reticent.
Redford has shown a grievous lapse of judgment in her role in delivery of a multimillion-dollar contract to her ex-husband’s law firm. Even if she was not responsible for the final decision on awarding the contract, the impression is cast in stone, and it is damning. Quite simply, the whole mess smells. While still minister of Justice, Redford should have removed herself the moment she knew Robert Hawkes’ law firm was among the contenders for the contract.
As the criticism in the house has multiplied, Redford has shown a remarkable penchant for ducking and dodging responsibility for digging the hole she has placed her government in.
As the opposition, led by the Wildrose Party, ramped up the questions for Redford in the legislature last week, the premier became more and more incensed by the accusations.
She steadfastly refused to acknowledge that she signed off on the choice of her ex-husband’s firm to lead Alberta’s legal campaign against Big Tobacco. Never mind that Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith had copies of the documents in her hand.
Redford was also outraged when her standing as a lawyer was questioned, turning the question on its head and suggesting that Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson was maligning all of the province’s lawyers (he is a lawyer himself). It didn’t answer the question he posed to her in any way.
And she spent a great deal of time letting her ministers answer questions directed at her.
In the end, opposition members asked Speaker Gene Zwozdesky to find Redford in contempt. On Monday, Zwozdesky said that the opposition had failed to prove that Redford made deliberately false statements to the house about the affair.
Zwozdesky all but admitted he was parsing phrases in his ruling, rather than getting to the heart of the issue. “Certainly, the chair admits this is getting into a case of semantics,” the Speaker said.
“Whether the premier’s statements were misleading is entirely subjective and depends greatly on the exact nature of the words used.”
And so Zwozdesky, a longtime Conservative cabinet minister before becoming Speaker, casually pushed aside a significant issue of leadership and ethics.
It will not be so easy for Albertans to forget, particularly if the opposition, led by Wildrose members, continues to do its job well: prodding the government when it makes errors, looking for lapses in judgment and insisting that the Conservatives toe the fiscal line.
Ultimately, though, is not about party ideology. It is about due process, respect for the public, and respect for the fundamentals of democratic decision making.
And it is about common sense, or lack thereof, and the resounding sense of entitlement that continues to dominate the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.
Zwozdesky could do nothing other than make the decision he did. To sanction the premier would have been to attack the foundation of the party that the Speaker has served so faithfully as an MLA for almost 20 years.
And holding Redford in contempt would have set in motion a series of events that would have, at best, created four years of chaos in this province and for the Conservatives. At worst, it would have meant the end of Redford’s brief run as premier.
The Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta’s latest electronic fundraising email talks about a party “refreshed under the leadership of our Leader and Premier of Alberta, Alison Redford.”
If this is a party refreshed, Albertans should start considering the alternatives. And Redford would do well to reflect on why Albertans would consider other choices now, when they didn’t last April at the ballot box.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.