EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Alison Redford — fending off accusations she had been caught red-handed in a patronage scandal involving her ex-husband — faced calls Thursday to step down and be cited for contempt of the legislature.
“There is overwhelming evidence that the premier lied,” claimed NDP Leader Brian Mason, speaking to reporters.
“This is one of the most serious situations that I have ever seen affecting a premier. I’m today calling on Premier Redford to step aside until this matter is properly investigated.
“It will be very difficult to for this premier to continue to lead the province if she is not prepared to tell us the truth,” Mason maintained.
Redford insisted for a second day that she told the truth about not picking her ex-husband’s law firm to handle the Alberta government’s lawsuit against big tobacco while she was justice minister in 2010.
The deal with International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers — which includes her ex-husband Robert Hawkes’ firm — was finalized in June 2011 by another justice minister and the government says that’s what is important.
However, newly released department memos and documents indicate that Redford made the decision and that the winner and losers were formally notified while she was still in the job.
The opposition Wildrose party asked Speaker Gene Zwozdesky to find Redford in contempt of the legislature because it says she misled the house about her involvement. Zwozdesky delayed his ruling until next week.
Hawkes has remained close to Redford professionally and led the transition team when she became premier more than a year ago.
“This is the biggest scandal in the premier’s office in my lifetime,” Wildrose house leader Rob Anderson told reporters.
“We’re not talking about millions of dollars being sent to this law firm. We’re talking about contingency fees that would result in billions of dollars going to a 12-person law firm including some of her closest donors, personal friends, (and) ex-husband.
“This is brutal. There’s no other way to describe it.”
The Wildrose and Mason hammered away at Redford on the topic in question period.
Redford didn’t move in her chair in the front bench and stared straight ahead while the Wildrose asked nine consecutive questions that were answered by either Justice Minister Jonathan Denis or Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk.
Redford did stand to answer Mason’s questions.
“I did tell the truth,” she said. “I stand by what I said yesterday in this house. I told the truth.”
Mason said those answers aren’t good enough.
“How can Albertans ever again trust (her)?” he asked.
It was a day of conflicting statements from the premier’s office.
A scheduled 3 p.m. news conference with Redford was cancelled 15 minutes before it was to begin. A spokesman for the premier said it was because the lawsuit issue had been addressed by Redford and other ministers in the house.
However, 90 minutes later, as Mason’s challenge for Redford to step down grew on social media, Redford’s team hastily called the media for a briefing outside her office.
Redford said they had simply delayed the earlier news conference until the Wildrose contempt motion was handled by Zwozdesky.
In the scrum, Redford dismissed calls from the opposition that she had lost credibility to lead and challenged a reporter who prefaced his question by referring to Redford making a decision on the ex-husband’s firm.
“I will not let you characterize it to be that. I did not select any law firm,” she said.
“It was not a decision, and I stand by what I’ve said.”
The issue first made headlines Wednesday morning in a report by CBC-TV using documents obtained under freedom of information rules.
On Dec. 14, 2010, Redford — who was justice minister — sent a memo to her top department bureaucrat on three competitors vying to handle a lawsuit on behalf of the province against tobacco companies.