All posts tagged CBC

Despite statements by former premier and health minister, AHS has dropped its objection to paying full severance to fired CFO Allaudin Merali

Fred Horne and Alison Redford, back in the day. (CBC photo.) Below: Former Alberta Health Services senior vice-president and CFO Allaudin Merali; former Capital Health Region CEO Sheila Weatherill.

Alberta Health Services has thrown in the towel on a key point of the legal dispute with Allaudin Merali and offered to pay its fired executive vice-president and chief financial officer the full severance agreed to in his contract.

“AHS has acknowledged that it will pay the severance required by the Employment Contract once the Plaintiff has complied with the obligations imposed on him by the Employment Contract,” AHS says in its statement of defence filed in response to Mr. Merali’s $6.1-million March 14 lawsuit  alleging breach of contract and defamation. Mr. Merali’s unpaid severance is reported to be in excess of $500,000.

However, Mr. Merali’s lawsuit continues at this time. In addition to his argument he is entitled to the severance pay set out in his contract, the point AHS has now accepted, Mr. Merali is seeking damages for what his statement of claim described in part as “the utmost bad faith in conspiring to induce breach of employment contract,” plus compensation for loss of income, as well as damages from former health minister Fred Horne for defamation.

Mr. Merali was fired on Aug. 1 2012, hours before the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. was scheduled to broadcast a report that the senior executive had filed high expense claims while employed in a similar senior position by the Capital Health Region between January 2005 and August 2008.

The statement of defence for Alberta Health Services says “AHS has communicated to the Plaintiff that AHS is prepared to pay the severance contemplated by the Employment Contract on the following conditions:

“As contemplated by paragraph 28 of the Employment Contract, the Plaintiff is required to provide a Release in a form satisfactory to AHS in exchange for the severance payment …

“The Plaintiff is required to provide AHS with details of any alternate employment obtained during the 12 months following the termination of his employment so that AHS may make the appropriate adjustment to the severance in accordance with paragraph 30 of the Employment Contract. …

“AHS will pay interest on the severance payments in accordance with the Judgment Interest Act …”

At the time the AHS statement of defence was filed, it went on, “the Plaintiff has not provided the Release … nor the information about alternate employment … “

The statement of defence also said that by April 2014, “AHS determined that the termination of the Plaintiff’s employment was properly characterized as a termination without cause.”

This is not exactly new information. The AHS statement of defence was filed with the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton on May 2, 2014, where it could be viewed by anyone for a $10 fee.

Still it will come as a surprise to most Albertans, especially those who recall the very strong language used by both Mr. Horne and former premier Alison Redford once Mr. Merali’s expense claims had become a topic of controversy.

The firing of Mr. Merali and the things Ms. Redford and Mr. Horne said about him, took place despite the fact Mr. Merali’s expenses, submitted to the CHR in 2008 and 2009, appear to have been within the rules of that organization at the time and to have been approved by the Capital Health CEO, Sheila Weatherill. They also appeared to have had nothing to do with Mr. Merali’s employment as CFO of AHS, the post from which he was fired.

Nevertheless, on Aug. 6, 2012 – less than a week after the CBC story appeared and Mr. Merali was fired – a Government of Alberta news release was published over Mr. Horne’s name stating in a headline, “No severance to be paid to AHS executive.”

The same day, AHS also indicated Mr. Merali would not be paid the severance in his contract. This was widely reported by media.

The government news release quoted Mr. Horne as stating, “like all Albertans, I was outraged to learn of these events,” which he also referred to as “unacceptable expense claims” and “unacceptable practices.”

In a media conference that day, Mr. Horne said “I am outraged as is the government by what has been revealed here … I am dumbfounded.”

That remark became the basis of Mr. Merali’s defamation argument. According to his statement of claim: “The Defamatory Statement … was intended by the Minister, and was understood by all recipients thereof, to mean the Plaintiff was untrustworthy, dishonest, underhanded and unethical. … The Defamatory Statement was false and made by the Minister with malice and with the deliberate intention of discrediting the financial and personal reputation of the Plaintiff.”

The statement of claim also alleged: “The Minister’s further purpose was to make the Plaintiff the scapegoat for the government and to deflect adverse public criticism from himself, from other members of the government, and from others in AHS who had continued to be employed in various capacities, including those close to then politicians whose expenses were questioned at the same time.”

Mr. Horne’s legal counsel filed a separate statement of defence, also on May 2, in which “the Minister denies each and every allegation contained in the Statement of Claim” and “in answer to the whole of the Statement of Claim, at all material times the Minister acted with good faith and without malice in the course of discharging his Ministerial duties and responsibilities.”

Mr. Merali’s reply to the defence filings, made on May 27, states that from Aug. 1, 2012, to May 14, 2014, “AHS continuously and publicly denied its obligation to pay severance to the Plaintiff, thereby intending it to be understood that the Plaintiff had been guilty of conduct justifying termination for just cause.”

The May 2 AHS communication, this document also argues, was “made on conditions which AHS well knew could not be reasonably accepted by the Plaintiff.”

None of these statements by the various parties have been tested in a court of law.

On the topic of whether the government would pay Mr. Merali’s contractual severance, Ms. Redford’s commentary in the media was very clear:

“We are not going to voluntarily do anything with respect to his severance,” Ms. Redford, herself a lawyer, told a columnist for the Calgary Sun on May 20, 2013. “We are not going to simply sit back and take a look at what he may or may not feel he’s entitled to without resisting that. It’s not acceptable.

“Simply because someone alleges they’re entitled to something doesn’t mean we have to agree they are and we’re not going to agree,” Ms. Redford stated.

No court dates were included in the Court of Queen’s Bench public file on Mr. Merali’s lawsuit. But then, given the state of affairs today in Alberta, a court appearance may no longer be required to settle this matter.

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Never mind Alison Redford: Finance Minister Doug Horner, unfortunately, needs to resign

Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford and Doug Horner together on the stage on the night of Ms. Redford’s election as PC Party leader in October 2011. Below: Mr. Horner, Ms. Redford and Mr. Stelmach.

If the Parliamentary convention called ministerial responsibility still has meaning in Alberta or Canada, Finance Minister Doug Horner must resign.

Everyone in political Alberta has been focusing on another question: what should happen to former premier Alison Redford in the wake of the many recent revelations about her controversial conduct in office?

This serves a political purpose for those with a partisan axe to grind, but as long as she is not found guilty of a criminal offence – and as stated in this space yesterday, that is extremely unlikely to happen – she has in fact already done the right thing in terms of Parliamentary tradition and convention.

That is to say, when it was demonstrated that she and members of her departmental staff had not done their jobs properly, she resigned from cabinet.

If she sticks around or runs for re-election, it is up to the voters – not the courts or the other members of the Legislature – to deal with her. Her Progressive Conservative caucus can kick her out if they like, but that is private party business.

Granted, the circumstances of Ms. Redford’s resignation from cabinet amounted to a palace coup – or, as it has been termed here, a Sky-Palace coup – but, nevertheless, she has done the thing that is required of Parliamentary convention, defined here to mean, as my favourite political science textbook puts it, “a constitutional rule based on implicit political agreement and enforced in the political arena rather than by the courts.”

So now, despite the interesting puzzle of why she acted as she did, the more important question has to do with Mr. Horner, who by all accounts is both an honourable person and a highly capable senior minister.

The trouble is – as I am sure he well knows – the convention of ministerial responsibility demands that he now resign from cabinet, although not from his seat in the Legislature.

“According to the doctrine,” says that well-thumbed Canadian politics textbook of mine, The Canadian Regime by Patrick Malcolmson and Richard Meyers, “the minister who heads each department must be accountable to the House of Commons (or the provincial Legislature) for the conduct of each and every civil servant working in that department.”

And Mr. Horner, while not responsible for the appalling and inexplicable behaviour of Ms. Redford’s Premier’s Office staff, was the minister in charge of the government’s small fleet of aircraft.

As we now know, thanks to the CBC’s unauthorized report of Auditor General Merwan Saher’s report on Ms. Redford’s travel practices, someone made a practice of booking fake passengers on planes on which the premier planned to fly, to keep everyone but Ms. Redford’s personal staff off the aircraft. (Why they didn’t just use the sensible system of priorities that was standard operating procedure under her predecessor, in which premier Ed Stelmach had the ex officio power to bump whomever he pleased, because he was the premier after all, is a mystery.)

While the “ghost riders” scheme, by the sound of the news reports, seems to have originated with Ms. Redford’s staff, it’s hard to see how it could have happened without the collusion of officials under Mr. Horner’s purview.

Now, this may seem unfair, because it is unlikely that Mr. Horner personally knew much about this practice. But, under the ministerial responsibility convention, that does not matter.

“On the most basic level, (ministerial responsibility) means that ministers may be asked in the House to investigate allegations of incompetence or impropriety in their departments and take appropriate measures,” explain Professors Malcolmson and Meyers.

“If the incompetence or impropriety is substantial and may be attributed to poor management, however, the stakes become much higher,” they write. “Under the doctrine of ministerial responsibility the minister must take personal responsibility for major problems of mismanagement.” (Emphasis added.)

“In more serious cases of mismanagement, this means the minister must resign.”

This is undeniably a serious case of mismanagement. Indeed, in the political arena, the fate of the whole PC government may rest upon it.

But in the Legislature, it means the minister must resign.

If Mr. Horner won’t resign, Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock has the responsibility to fire him.

This is undoubtedly not the way that Mr. Horner would like to end a long and distinguished career in public service. Moreover, if his party is not re-elected, he is not likely to be able just to step back into a cabinet position, as the tradition also permits.

And, no, it’s not entirely just. But those are the rules of the game.

If Mr. Horner won’t do what Parliamentary tradition demands, that too will have an impact on how history views his many accomplishments.

So, unfortunately, Mr. Horner needs to resign.

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Is there any benefit for Albertans in a criminal prosecution of Alison Redford? Not really

Alison Redford, in days past, somewhere in the skies over Alberta. OK, I never said I was a master of Photoshop! Below: Disgraced Canadian Senator Mike Duffy, Alberta Tory leadership frontrunner Jim Prentice, leadership candidate and former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk.

Will Alberta benefit from a police investigation of Alison Redford’s use of the government’s small fleet of passenger aircraft?

Not really.

Here’s why: Notwithstanding the hyperbole from a number of elected officials of more than one political persuasion, not to mention the opinions of numerous columnists, bloggers and Twitterers, a trial, let alone a conviction, is extremely unlikely.

For all the ethical murkiness of the behaviour exhibited by Ms. Redford and unidentified members of her staff, not to mention some of her caucus mates as well, it’s not at all clear any laws were broken.

Maybe Ms. Redford shouldn’t have taken her daughter along on the government plane, but there’s no way the police or the Crown Prosecution Service are going to conclude that was a criminal breach of trust.

And certainly her staff shouldn’t have put the name of fictional “ghost riders” on the flight manifests as a sneaky way to ensure privacy for the premier and her political aides on certain flights. There have been some denials, but there seems to be no question this actually happened, as reported the day before yesterday by the CBC.

But was that a criminal breach of trust, whether or not Ms. Redford knew about it, as she says she didn’t? Fat chance.

There are so many obstacles to a successful prosecution here about the only thing this topic is good for is a question on some future law school examination.

The commentators screaming for Ms. Redford’s head on a platter – including those of the right-wing, tax-hating persuasion employed by Sun News Network and like organizations – may have missed it, but police and Crown prosecution time and resources cost tax money.

Is it really a good use of our tax dollars to have the police pursue a political case that stands no chance of resulting in charges, let alone a conviction?

A typical right-wing opinion about this case was expressed yesterday in the Edmonton Sun by columnist Lorne Gunter, who argued that if Disgraced Canadian Senator Mike Duffy “can be charged for padding his expense account to claim his Ottawa home as a secondary residence and to pay for a trip to the funeral of a personal contact, then what Redford did seems far worse.”

No, what DCS Duffy is accused of is far worse – and, significantly, Mr. Gunter omits to mention the most serious charge in the PMO-Senate Scandal, the allegation Mr. Duffy accepted a bribe, the offering of which the RCMP has bizarrely concluded wasn’t a criminal matter.

Sorry, but taking your kid on an airplane that was already flying somewhere – even numerous times – isn’t an offence of the same magnitude as taking a bribe to execute your public duties in a particular way or submitting fraudulent expense claims with the intention of pocketing the cash.

This is true even if the accusations against Mr. Duffy happen to be an embarrassment to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom Mr. Gunter admires. But Mr. Gunter is right about one thing. Truly, some of Ms. Redford’s activities and those of her staff and caucus stink.

What stinks about them, though, is the instinct to deceive on the part of Ms. Redford’s office when a perfectly legitimate argument could have been made that the premier and her staff needed to be unaccompanied on those flights so they could discuss political questions frankly and openly.

Well, we’re all having our fun with this – and to that accusation, I plead guilty too – but we also need to keep in mind that a criminal investigation by the police may in fact be the best possible outcome from the perspective of Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservative Party.

It would give them at last the opportunity to kick her out of caucus and argue that they’ve dealt firmly and appropriately with the single bad apple in their ranks. This is what Tory leadership frontrunner and former Redford friend Jim Prentice seemed to be suggesting was an appropriate response yesterday. Likewise, her former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who is seeking the same job.

It would also allow former members of cabinet like Ric McIver, the third leadership candidate, and Finance Minister Doug Horner, both of whom surely had at least an inkling of what was going on, to claim the many problems Albertans are starting to see with the PC Party’s leadership cadre were the work of that one bad person, now thankfully gone.

And it would provide the perfect excuse for the lot of them to zip their lips and say they can’t comment on an active police investigation that’s conveniently likely to go on for months – thereby avoiding the need to answer questions about the ethical problems endemic to their party.

As an aside, one other likely effect of this affair will be the loss of the government’s small air fleet, which in fact serves a useful purpose for the taxpayers of Alberta.

For flight within Alberta, government aircraft save time for legitimate government work and allow for double tasking by the premier and his or her staff – exactly what Ms. Redford and her political advisors were apparently trying to do when someone cooked up this stupid Fakes on a Plane scheme.

With government aircraft in a province the size of Alberta, officials can fly in and out of some of the smallest airports, work between meetings and avoid having to be paid while they line up for commercial flights. Notwithstanding Ms. Redford’s unconscionable misuse of the planes, how are we taxpayers going to be better off if they are sold and the work contracted out to the high-cost private sector?

I suspect voters in their current justly disillusioned mood won’t be sympathetic to this view, but it remains a fact it’s not a bad use of our tax dollars, just like it’s a fact a doomed criminal prosecution of the former premier is not a good use of our taxes – no matter how much it secretly pleases her former caucus colleagues, who never much liked her anyway.

No, Ms. Redford’s crimes are political in nature – although not in the sense that phrase is normally used in totalitarian states. That is, they are known to the public, possibly immoral, but highly unlikely to be deemed illegal by a court.

They – and more importantly those of her party – can only be punished in a political forum. And the only meaningful way to do that is to fight an election over them.

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Flights of folly: Air Redford’s airborne ghost riders will be the death of Alberta’s Tories

De Plane! De Plane! Tattoo calls out from the tower to announce the arrival of the premier’s plane at Calgary International Airport. Actual members of former Premier Alison Redford’s staff may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Ms. Redford; Alberta Auditor General Merwan Saher. 

Those ghost riders on Alison Redford’s government flights aren’t going to go away. They will be the death of the party she led to government in 2012.

As Tattoo used to cry from the bell tower in the creepy Fantasy Island TV series: “De plane! De plane!”

Yesterday the CBC revealed that when she was premier, Ms. Redford’s office staff made a practice of ensuring she not only got to ride the government’s planes hither and yon, but that she rode them in regal privacy.

They did this by booking seats seats for fake passengers who kept low-level civil servants and déclassé backbench MLAs off the government flights she planned to take. The ghost riders would cancel their reservations at the last moment.

The revelation by CBC Edmonton’s investigative reporters was based on a report by Alberta Auditor General Merwan Saher, which wasn’t supposed to be made public for at least a couple of more weeks.

Public knowledge of this shabby little scheme is just another blow in what’s getting to be a very long list of outrages, entitlements, embarrassments and deceptions tied to Ms. Redford and her personal staff. So when the history of the fall of the mighty Alberta Tory dynasty established in 1971 by Peter Lougheed is written, Ms. Redford’s name and political ineptitude is bound to figure prominently in the tale.

By yesterday afternoon, Ms. Redford had been disavowed by all three Tory party leadership candidates. Opposition calls for an RCMP investigation of her conduct were apparently being taken seriously by the ambitious trio – although they surely must know the dangers in that course of action, having the examples of the Gomery Commission and PMO-Senate Scandal investigation before them. Indeed, how is it possible at least some members of the Redford cabinet didn’t know about the practices described in yesterday’s CBC report?

Nowadays, whenever you think the Progressive Conservative Party might be able to lurch back to its feet, it’s run over by another steamroller.

Only on Monday, the Opposition revealed the Tories’ vaunted three-year pay freeze for senior government executives – every one of them part of the Tory human infrastructure that has ruled Alberta since 1971 – was secretly ditched by Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock’s cabinet last week. While that was still in the headlines yesterday morning, the latest Air Redford flight scandal broke.

As public outrage over Ms. Redford’s lavish foreign travel expenses reached fever pitch last March, she agreed under pressure to let the Auditor General take a look at her travel practices.

If the report was supposed to remain a secret until the Tory brain trust had a chance to get their talking points in order, things didn’t work out that way. The CBC got a copy from someone and published the revealing details of how the scam kept unwanted passengers off the government’s planes when the premier was aboard.

They quoted Mr. Saher’s report thusly: “We were told by [the premier's] office staff and multiple staff from the Department of Treasury Board and Finance that for certain flights the remaining seats available on the plane were blocked to restrict access to Premier Redford on the aircraft.”

The report is not crystal clear, but it sounds as if the premier’s staff used the names of actual employees to block the seats. It would be very interesting to know if those people knew they were supposed to be flying on certain days, and, if they did, why no one said anything about it.

If the ghost riders used the names of real people from the Finance and Treasury Board departments, it would also be interesting to know what the relevant minister has to say about what he knew. Alas, Doug Horner has not been available to comment.

The ghost passengers were booked a couple of weeks in advance, the CBC reported. Their travel plans were cancelled at the last moment by the premier’s staff. With that, apparently Ms. Redford and her daughter, and her daughter’s friends, and her daughter’s nanny – well, she and her political staff, anyway – got to fly in blessed privacy, with no gossipy low-level civil servants or annoying backbenchers nearby.

According to the AG’s report and subsequent news stories, both the former premier and her chief of staff deny knowing anything about it. That may well be, although at this point it hardly matters.

If she knew nothing, it’s astonishing Ms. Redford never wondered why her flights were often so quiet. If her chief of staff was ignorant of the practice, which we must assume to be the case, he obviously wasn’t paying enough attention. It seems highly unlikely that a responsible officer of the Legislature would have reported the practice if he wasn’t certain it actually went on.

The CBC story outlines other problems with Ms. Redford’s use of the government air fleet: using government airplanes when commercial flights would have done nicely, insufficient documentation of why the planes were used, more than 50 flights with her daughter riding free, and reasons given for aircraft use that didn’t hold up under examination.

But the grubby little deception described by the CBC to allow the premier and her entourage to fly in privacy is what will resonate with a disgusted public.

Of the dozens of people who must have known, a group that surely included several in cabinet as well as senior officials, no one spoke up. What does this tell us?

The malaise in the Redford Government ran much deeper than just an one entitled premier and her personal staff.

And, while Ms. Redford’s caucus may have toppled her in the sky-palace coup in March and run her personal staff out of town on a rail, as the “leading by example” episode illustrates, little else seems to have changed here on Fantasy Island.

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Chutzpah Alert! Premier Dave Hancock explains why Sky Palaces and similar uproars are nothing but ‘distractions’

Alison Redford’s planned rooftop apartment, high atop the Federal Building in Edmonton. The Alberta Legislative Building is visible in the background. Actual secret places of the modern world may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: A shot of the actual Sky Palace under construction.

I don’t know about you, but I sort of admire the colossal cheek of the Hancock Government – which is exactly the same in most respects as the Redford Government – when it claims that all its recent troubles are nothing but One Big Distraction.

Last week, Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock visited my town, St. Albert, to talk to what we have been told was a sold-out crowd at the local hostelry to raise money for our inevitably Progressive Conservative Member of the Legislative Assembly. I can’t claim to have been there, so I’m relying on the local bi-weekly newspaper, the St. Albert Gazette, for my description of what went on.

All this talk about cracks in the Tory caucus so big you could drive a semi-trailer truck through them without scraping the sides? All balderdash, Mr. Hancock told the no-doubt vastly relieved local Tories.

Stories in the news about the same sort of thing? Distractions, every one of ’em! Distractions that keep your government from the important business of working on Big Picture Issues, which, Mr. Hancock explained, are what Alberta Tories do best.

Alas, this very sort of distraction is likely to continue for a while now, because the CBC has inconveniently made us all aware that when former premier Alison Redford was planning a luxury apartment for herself and her daughter atop a provincial government office building in Edmonton, lots of other people in her government knew about it too and don’t seem to have done or said anything.

The official line on the so-called Sky Palace Affair seems to be that it was just something Ms. Redford got up to all by herself, and her ministers and officials would have stopped her if only they’d known.

But the CBC’s always mischievous investigative reporter, Charles Rusnell, reported yesterday that plans to build the luxury penthouse suite atop the confusingly named Edmonton Federal Building, which is in fact an Edmonton provincial building, continued until late last year and all the while deputy ministers from several provincial departments knew all about them.

In particular, this creates a problem for Grande Prairie Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale, who back in 2012 was the minister of infrastructure, and who was reappointed to that same post last week. (Ms. Redford shuffled Mr. Drysdale into Transportation and replaced him at Infrastructure with Ric McIver last December. Mr. Hancock put him back into Infrastructure last week when Mr. McIver quit the cabinet to run for the party leadership. This was conveniently just in time for Mr. Drysdale not to return the CBC’s phone calls.)

The documents, obtained in one of Mr. Rusnell’s ubiquitous FOIP searches, cast doubt Mr. Drysdale’s claim he thought the whole scheme had been abandoned as a bad idea back in 2012. Leastways, if he did, they certainly suggest his senior civil servants didn’t tell him about them, which might have been a bit of an oversight since it was his ministry that was going to have to pay for the renovations.

The government says only $173,000 was spent on consulting work for the suite, by the way, but it’s not certain this isn’t just fancy accounting – putting the cost of the repurposed structure under a different column in the books, for example.

Regardless, getting back to Mr. Hancock’s St. Albert commentary last week, he told the local PCs not to trouble their pretty little heads about how the caucus thumped former premier Alison Redford like a dusty rug and then fired her sorry self all the way to the LuLu California Bistro in Palm Springs. Nor, he advised them, should they think about how not long before that some Tory MLAs were quitting to sit as Independents and as others were holding secret conclaves to discuss outright revolution.

It’s all just standard operating procedure for the fine people who have delivered good government to Alberta for 43 years, explained Mr. Hancock, wearing trendy new spectacles that aren’t quite as goofy as his old pair. The Tories, he said, call it a diversity of opinion.

All that stuff about the former premier jetting her friends and relations around the globe on the taxpayer’s dime? Part of that Big Distraction.

Unconstitutional legislation? Stripping working people of their modest pensions? All that stuff? More distraction.

And that Sky Palace thing Mr. Rusnell is now going on and on about? Even more distraction!

So don’t fret, Mr. Hancock told the remaining loyal local Tories – and, since the media was invited, by extension the rest of us. “Your caucus knows that we need to be working on Big Picture Issues.”

Mr. Hancock, in the words of the reporter, “reminded the crowd that the Tories have strong fiscal values.” Thus, he explained: “We have very strong character. … We’re trying to do the right things for the right reason.”

And that New Leader they’re about to choose – whoever that turns out to be after the exciting leadership contest, eh? “The New Leader will have the party and the government firing on all cylinders.”

It’s not hard to guess what that New Leader will be saying, is it? “Don’t worry about all that history stuff! It’s One Big Distraction!

Like I said, you’ve sort of got to admire the Tories for the sheer chutzpah of this approach. They’re like the proverbial son who murdered his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan.

But here’s the deal. In its 44th year of life there’s only one Big Issue for the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, and that’s staying in power.

The party has no other reason for existence, no matter who leads it or how many cylinders it’s firing on.

Issues of travel and expense claims – not to mention secret taxpayer subsidized apartments for their former leader that nobody seems to have said boo about – are important because they are issues of character.

And it’s been a long time since the PC Party got that part right.

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What happens now that we know there really is a cancer cluster in Fort Chip? Nothing?

Greenpeace Canada info-graphic showing connections among the far-right Conservative Party of Canada activists behind the so-called Ethical Oil Institute. Below: Dr. James Talbot; Dr. John O’Connor; Ezra Levant.

Alberta’s chief medical officer has now confirmed that statistics released a couple of weeks ago indicate there really is a cancer cluster in Fort Chipewyan, a predominantly native community about 280 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

Fort Chip, as it is often known, has long been a subject of controversy about the health impacts of bitumen sands development because – possibly coincidentally, and possibly not – it is not far downstream and downwind of the largest Bitumen Sands mining and processing operations in Alberta.

Nevertheless, the Edmonton Journal reported earlier this week, the government has no plans to try to identify the possible causes of the cluster of serious diseases, which includes unusually high rates of bile duct cancer, plus some others.

So, what does this tell us?

Well, before we get to that, a caveat: I am just a layperson who notices things, often sees connections with other things, notes them down and writes about them. I am not a medical professional, a statistician or a clairvoyant. So readers are entitled to take my conclusions with as large a grain of salt as they wish. I am, as they say, just saying…

Still, now that we’ve got that out of the way, what does this week’s news suggest?

First of all, it suggests Dr. John O’Connor, the physician who famously practiced medicine in native communities in the region, was onto something when he reported back in the mid-2000s that … wait for it … there was a cluster of unusual cancers among residents of Fort Chipewyan.

For saying this – regardless of why he reached his conclusions – Dr. O’Connor has been attacked in the vilest and most damaging terms imaginable, and very nearly lost his ability to practice his profession as a result.

Both the federal and provincial governments harshly criticized Dr. O’Connor for daring to suggest the Bitumen-extraction industry might have been the cause of the serious health problems he observed among residents of Fort Chip and nearby communities – including, as he then observed and has now been confirmed, an unusually high rate of bile duct cancer.

Not only did the provincial government dispute Dr. O’Connor’s conclusions, in 2007 Health Canada physicians laid four complaints of professional misconduct against him with the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons. These included accusations he blocked access to his patients’ medical files, claims of billing irregularities, and the charge, redolent of totalitarian states, that he caused mistrust of government in Fort Chipewyan and “undue alarm” among residents of the community.

The accusations nearly resulted in Dr. O’Connor losing his license to practice medicine, and hence his livelihood. Eventually, according to the Edmonton Journal, he was cleared of all the charges against him.

This, however, has never stopped Sun News Network TV commentator and “Ethical Oil” propagandist Ezra Levant from using what we might call his national on-air bullying pulpit to launch a stream of vilification at Dr. O’Connor, calling him “a liar,” accusing him of “breaching professional ethics,” and saying “he just made it up.”

Now, Mr. Levant doesn’t have much credibility, in part because he attacks so many people in the same way – pretty much anyone who disagrees with him, in fact. Nevertheless, he has a devoted following and many of his acolytes no doubt believe his claims about Dr. O’Connor. His accusations are influential enough, it is said here, to make others with similar observations afraid to speak their minds.

Indeed, Dr. Margaret Sears, an Ontario expert in toxicology and health, told the Edmonton Journal doctors in the region were afraid of the negative consequences to their careers if they spoke out, or even were asked to treat patients who thought their might be a connection between their symptoms and nearby bitumen production.

She was not referring specifically to Mr. Levant’s on-air jeremiads, but it is not unreasonable to conclude just such an outcome was in fact the intention of the broadcaster’s on-air bullying. For, as has been noted in this space before, Mr. Levant is closely tied to both the petroleum industry in Alberta, through his so-called “Ethical Oil Institute,” and with the petro-government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In a useful piece of work published earlier this week, Greenpeace Canada charted the connections among Mr. Levant’s so-called institute, the Harper Conservative Party, provincial versions of the same party and their energy industry patrons.

Greenpeace made headlines by calling for Elections Canada to investigate Ethical Oil for “colluding with the Conservative Party in order to get around rules that limit donations to political parties.”

Such a probe is of course unlikely because Elections Canada is already under attack from the Harper Conservatives for protecting the democratic rights of Canadians too effectively. But with that story in the news, mainstream media took notice when Greenpeace identified the frequent “mirrored messaging” between Ethical Oil and the CPC and the “multiple crossovers” among Harper Government staffers and Ethical Oil.

“Greenpeace argues election financing laws are breached even if a third party – in this case Ethical Oil – does not directly transfer money to a political party,” the CBC reported. “Greenpeace is urging the commissioner of elections to find that if Ethical Oil spends funds it raises on activities supporting a political party’s agenda, and has been set up by someone involved in the political party, then political donation limits have been contravened.”

“Our laws still ban oil companies from directly or indirectly funding political parties, so we hope that Ethical Oil and the Conservative Party will cooperate with the Commissioner in an investigation to clear this up,” Greenpeace said in its news release – no doubt rhetorically, given the uncooperative history of the CPC on such matters.

An effective info-graphic created by Greenpeace illustrates the connections among the CPC, Ethical Oil and their mutual operatives, including Mr. Levant, on this propaganda campaign.

Which brings us back to the Fort Chip cancer cluster.

“If anybody crunches the numbers for Fort Chipewyan, no matter how they are massaged, they wouldn’t show anything but a cancer cluster,” the Journal quoted University of Calgary professor John Dennis as saying this week. “It’s a huge red flag,” said the researcher, who conducted a review of the previous study at the government’s behest.

Dr. James Talbot, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, told the same newspaper, in its reporter’s words, that “updated figures for bile-duct cancer in the northern community fit the definition of a cluster, as does the rate of cervical cancer. The lung-cancer rate comes very close.”

Of course, there could be many causes for the disease cluster – including lifestyle choices in an impoverished community. But it’s an interesting series of events just the same, isn’t it?

  • A physician has his character viciously attacked by a right-wing broadcaster linked to the Conservative federal government and the oil industry for suggesting there was a cluster of diseases in a community in a bitumen-extraction region.
  • A petroleum industry advocacy organization run by the same broadcaster is accused of breaching election laws to help the same government remain in power. Whether or not the group’s activities actually broke the law, the same group of right-wing activists are demonstrably involved in both campaigns.
  • Another study by other doctors shows the physician’s observations all those years ago were likely right, and yet a provincial government run by followers of the same ideology refuses to launch an investigation to find out what’s really causing the health problems.

Whatever can it all mean?

Could someone be afraid of the answers a credible study might reveal?

Did someone ask: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent doc?”

Is there an effort to keep a lid of science that might impact petroleum industry profits?

I’m not saying. I’m just asking.

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Allaudin Merali files suit against Fred Horne, Alberta Health Services for breach of contract, defamation

Health Minister Fred Horne: target of defamation, breach of trust, loss of income suit by former Alberta Health Services CFO. Below: Allaudin Merali.

Allaudin Merali filed a statement of claim today in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench against Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne.

“The statement of claim includes claims for a breach of contract, defamation and loss of income,” Mr. Merali said in a carefully worded email sent to media and bloggers.

Since the former Capital Health Region and Alberta Health Services CFO’s expense account became a cause célèbre and a political embarrassment to the Redford Government after CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell broke a story about it in August 2012, the message to Mr. Merali from the government has always been that he will have to go to court if he wants to try to get his half-million dollars in severance.

Mr. Rusnell had filed a Freedom of Information search of Mr. Merali’s expense claims and discovered, in the reporter’s words, “how he spent tens of thousands of dollars on lavish meals at high-end restaurants, bottles of wine, even a phone for his Mercedes Benz car.” Mr. Merali left the employ of AHS soon thereafter.

But the real problem was never that Mr. Merali spent the money after he returned to Alberta Health Services from a job in Ontario – it was all properly submitted, signed off and approved. It was that Alberta Health Services signed such generous contracts with its senior executives in the first place.

That is the true source of the embarrassment to the government – but to admit that, it would have had to concede it signed a lousy deal, and not just with Mr. Merali but likely with every executive in AHS and the CHR before it.

Back in May 2013, Premier Alison Redford told Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell that “if people think they are entitled to something in a contract and other people don’t think they’re entitled to it I guess they can hire lawyers and take legal routes and go to court.”

She added: “We are not going to simply sit back and take a look at what he may or may not feel he’s entitled to without resisting that.”

How can this mean anything but that the word of this government cannot be trusted? As I wrote at the time, there are four problems with this government’s approach:

1.    Alberta Health Services signed a contract with the guy that says he’s owed the money
2.    Outrageous as his expenses may have seemed, all of them appear to have met the lax the rules for executive expenses in effect at the time he was a Capital Health Region employee
3.    He was rehired and then fired by another employer, AHS, and there’s no evidence his expenses at that organization broke any rules
4.    Canada, even the part governed by Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservative Party, still has an independent and impartial judiciary

No surprise, the Redford Government didn’t take my advice about this, I guess, so now we’re going to get to see the proof of Point 4.

In his statement today, Mr. Merali said he joined AHS in good faith after personally being encouraged by the minister of health. He noted that AHS, moreover, understood his expenses had been properly incurred and said so in a news release on Aug. 1, 2012.

“What is apparent from widely publicized statements by the minister and other government representatives is that my expense claims were spun by the defendants to make me a scapegoat and to distract the media and the public from issues with other AHS executives,” he said in the statement.

“I have filed a claim because the minister and AHS have failed to meet obligations clearly given to me by a signed employment contract,” he said. In addition, “defamatory statements were made which questioned my integrity and have damaged my ability to work in a senior management capacity in Canada.

“I have no choice but to file a claim to seek compensation for my loss of employment and damage to my reputation,” Mr. Merali concluded, saying he will have no further comment until the court proceedings are concluded.

Alberta taxpayers stand to be double losers – we will have to pay for a politically motivated legal case that surely stands little chance of success, and have to pay Mr. Merali what he was promised as well.

He was said in a reporter’s Tweet to be seeking more than $6 million in damages.

Most likely he will settle out of court and no one will ever know how much he was paid in compensation for his claims.

The conduct of the Alberta government from start to finish is the real shame of this sorry affair.

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PKP to run for PQ: Why PKP, with SNN and CPC PMO spell SOS for Canada, which could be FUBAR

Impressionable English Canadian youngsters tune in to SNN for sinister ideological conditioning by RWN (right-wing nuts) on the staff of the PMO-favoured network. Below: PKP and his now-ex wife (NXW), grabbed from the Internet; SNN broadcaster Ezra Levant.

Oh, H-E-double-hockey-sticks, PKP wants another D-I-V-O-R-C-E!

This time, having just given his common-law wife of a decade the old heave-ho, it’s from us! 

And I don’t know about you, but this smells a bit like C-O-N-S-P-I-R-A-C-Y.

Let me explain…

PKP for those of you who live in the ROC and are therefore wondering WTF is Pierre Karl Péladeau, who until recently was the CEO of Quebecor Inc. (QBR to the TSE.) Also until recently he was the common law husband of broadcaster Julie Snyder.

QBR was recently described as “one of the worst employers Quebec has ever known,” a statement that it would certainly be fair to extend Canada-wide.

PKP, as he is apparently known in Quebec, remains QBR’s largest shareholder, and working for him is obviously pure H-E-double-L for most of his now-former E-M-P-L-O-Y-E-E-S, fewer and fewer of whom had managed to retain that un-coveted status even before he signalled a career change.

QBR, indeed, is well on its way to being the company that gave the ROC the completely journalism-free newspaper.

More important, though, PKP seems to be the guy who invented the faux patriotic Sun News Network (SNN), the tireless foe of the CRTC and the CBC that is billed by its opponents as Fox News North (FNN, I guess) and calls itself the home of “hard news and straight talk,” which seem to mean “far-right spin and extremely offensive and dishonest commentary.”

Indeed, it was SNN that gave Ezra Levant, who seems to have some troubles of his own just now, a national soapbox from which to insult people who disagreed with him in the basest imaginable terms, a proclivity SNN was willing to spend considerable time and effort to defend.

SNN is also the home of such luminaries of the lunatic right as Michael Coren, Brian Lilley and Lorne Gunter, who when they’re not reprinting Fraser Institute news releases strive with one another to express English Canada’s most offensive opinions and portray our society in the worst possible light.

In other words, SNN and its gaggle of unreconstructed rightists is a powerful symbol of the parochialism and ideological extremism that large numbers of Quebeckers have come to associate with English Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

And BTW, as is well known, SNN, AKA FNN, is a particular favourite of both the CPC and the Harper PMO – which is bound, in the next election campaign, to try to falsely imply that federalists in the NDP have gone MIA.

Now, in addition to being a lousy employer and a tireless far-right propagandist, PKP is a deeply committed separatist. This is news out here in the ROC, although it was long well known in politically alert circles.

Accordingly, PKP announced yesterday he will run as a candidate for the Parti Québécois, and his reason for doing so was informative: “My devotion to the Parti Québécois is a devotion that rises from my most intimate values – that is to say: to make Quebec a country,” he told a PQ rally in the Montreal suburb of St. Jerome to roars of approval.

“I have extremely profound convictions to make Quebec a country,” he emphasized.

Presumably PKP didn’t come by his extremely profound convictions yesterday.

So we have to ask, did he intentionally promote an image of an intolerant and ignorant English Canada through SNN that he knew would make Quebeckers wish the ROC would just FO&DD?

Perhaps having contributed so much through QBR and SNN to making many Quebeckers ashamed of Canada, PKP was advancing his dream of giving his three children “a country they can be proud of.”

SNN, of course, tried to soft-pedal the obvious yesterday, trotting out the ghost of MBM (Martin Brian Mulroney) in its “news” columns to insist there’s no connection between PKP and QBR, and advising the ROC in its “opinion” section to pay no heed to the return of the separatist threat to Quebec if the PQ elects a majority.

IMO, we should treat it very seriously indeed before our entire country is FUBAR.

Indeed, it seems to me the best thing we could do for Canada right now would be to stick with Quebec while severing our ties as quickly as possible with SNN, QBR and Stephen “Firewall” Harper.

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Shining you on: Alison Redford calls for a little selective sunshine on civil service salaries

The scene in February 2014: CBC investigative journalist Charles Rusnell pores through a list of senior Alberta civil service salaries as horrified deputy ministers and university professors look on. Actual Alberta public employees may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Associate Minister of Accountability, Transparency and Transformation Don Scott, left, with some guy his party would just as soon you forgot about. (Image grabbed from the Internet from I wonder what the yellow gloves are for?

Have the calls Alberta’s Progressive Conservative MLAs are getting from modestly paid unionized civil servants, furious about having their salaries frozen by unconstitutional legislation and their pensions diminished, rattled the Redford Government?

PC MLAs should be rattled – seeing as a lot of those modestly paid low- and mid-level public employees live in ridings that Ms. Redford’s PC Party hung onto by extremely narrow margins in the face of the Wildrose Party tide in the April 2012 general election.

So the announcement yesterday by Don Scott, Alberta’s “associate minister of accountability, transparency and transformation,” that the Redford Government has plans to shine a little highly selective sunshine on senior public service salaries suggests they may indeed be worried.

At any rate, an Alberta government news release stating “compensation, including salary, benefit and severance amounts for government employees with base salaries above $100,000 will now be publicly disclosed,” sounds an awful lot like an effort to make a dubious case to the public that province’s public service is too fat and sassy and needs to be brought down a notch or two.

It just might work with some members of the public, the large and inattentive cohort of citizens who can’t tell the difference between civil service union members and their well-paid managers – the latter being the people who will make up the bulk of the names on the new Mike-Harris-inspired “sunshine list” that’s supposed to be published online at the end of January.

But will publication of the list win Ms. Redford any votes in 2016?

Don’t count on that. The people most likely to take the bait offered in what’s being billed the “public service compensation disclosure policy” are the same ones who have already decided to vote Wildrose, or who can’t be bothered getting out to vote at all.

On the other hand, you can count on civil service managers to be outraged by what they are certain to see as an invasion of their personal privacy.

It’s said here these traditional Tory voters are now much more likely to vote against Ms. Redford’s party, as are the rank-and-file government employees they supervise, who for their part are unhappy about the PCs imposition of a legislated freeze on their wages and cuts to their pension plans.

I ask you, how much would you like it if your snoopy right-wing brother-in-law could find out that you were making $100,000.01 in base salary on a government website accessible to everyone in the world? Well, if you’re a civil service manager in Alberta, he’ll be able to just that, using your name, in just 43 days!

Just how this is going to work with Alberta’s privacy legislation is unclear – and not surprisingly largely unexplored in yesterday’s news release.

On the face if it, Alberta’s Personal Information Protection Act would seem to prohibit the release of such employee information without consent, at least unless “it is reasonable to disclose the information for the particular purpose for which it is being disclosed.” That law also suggests employees are owed “reasonable notice.”

What do you want to bet some affected government employees won’t think this is reasonable, and that 40 days and 40 nights doesn’t constitute reasonable notice – even if the government can dredge up some regulation somewhere to override those provisions of the act.

Oh well, contradicting its own legislation is nothing new for the Redford Government – just ask the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

There’s certainly a case to be made such information does belong in the public domain. And if voters are paying attention – which the premier’s Queen’s Park-trained political staff clearly hopes they are not – the information won’t do much to make the case Alberta’s civil service is overindulged.

After all, the vast majority of Alberta civil servants don’t make anything like $100,000 in base salary – and if you don’t believe me, just look up AUPE’s contract with the government on the union’s website and see for yourself how modestly paid its members are.

If Ontario is any guide, only about 6 per cent of all tax filers make more than $100,000.

As Armine Yalnizyan of Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives told the CBC last spring when Ontario published its annual list, maybe it’s time to expand the list to “shine a light on the private sector.”

It’s a thought – and a potential new group for Ms. Redford’s political brain trust to alienate.

Meanwhile, the government did get the endorsement of the Alberta director of the six-member Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which its communications brainiacs obviously chalk up as a plus, seeing as they quoted it in their press release.

And the announcement probably distracted voters from the fact the former Tory MLA from Wood Buffalo-Fort McMurray pleaded guilty the day before to a reduced charge in Minnesota after being swept up last summer in a “john sweep” of the seedy underside of St. Paul, the Sin City of the Gopher State.

Back here in the Gopher Province, look for the phone company to do a land-office trade in new unlisted numbers.

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If the deputy premier wants free speech for Ukraine so badly, why is he attacking it in Alberta?

Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk in the Rotunda of the Alberta Legislature. Note, in the background at left, Wildrose Opposition Leader Danielle Smith. Below, a recent Twitter message from Mr. Lukaszuk, an inveterate and confrontational Tweeter, who thinks your free speech rights are a matter of LOL and #wink.

Last weekend, Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk was in Edmonton’s Churchill Square enthusiastically demanding free speech and recognition of other fundamental rights for citizens of Ukraine.

Premier Alison Redford’s second in command told his listeners he recalled being in Kiev in 2004, observing the Orange Revolution: “Never again should there be a time in Ukraine that protests would have to be sparked in favour of democracy, but unfortunately that wasn’t so.”

Presumably his speechifying was well received.

But if the Polish-born Mr. Lukaszuk is so in favour of free speech and democracy in Eastern Europe, how come he’s attacking it in Alberta?

This is a reasonable question that should be answered by Mr. Lukaszuk, who is one of the principal architects behind the anti-union legislation now being rammed through the Legislature by the Alberta’s spineless Progressive Conservative caucus without a whinny of protest or principle.

Bills 45 and 46, after all, include an egregious attack on the free-speech rights of all Albertans, and make a mockery of the ideas of due process, free association and natural justice. As Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, who I can tell you from personal experience is not exactly a rabid trade unionist, said yesterday: It’s hard to imagine a more blatant violation of free speech.”

Indeed, if you’d tried a stunt like this in Kiev this week, you could have expected streets full of angry citizens armed with gasoline bombs, manning barricades and preparing for an illegal general strike.

Mr. Lukaszuk has his fingerprints all over the matched set of unconstitutional bills rammed through Legislature by the PC Party’s cowed and unprincipled backbenchers – laws that have also had better-behaved crowds of protesters braving the chill in the streets of Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge.

This is easy to forget because Finance Minister Doug Horner and Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, both of whose public images retain a few tattered shreds of respectability, have served as the human faces charged with making excuses for the excesses of Bills 45 and 46.

But of the lot, it was Mr. Lukaszuk who was best positioned to push forward his agenda as the chair of the secretive Public Sector Resource Committee, a little-known body that oversees the government’s direct and almost-direct negotiations with unionized civil servants and other public employees.

In the past, Mr. Lukaszuk has said the committee’s role is to impose uniformity on all public sector labour contracts. Revealingly, he told the Edmonton Sun a few days ago that the meaningless decision to “freeze” MLA salaries until after the next election at $156,311 plus generous benefits, in the words of the Sun’s reporter, “will give himself and the committee ‘the moral authority, in a way’ for continued negotiations with AUPE.”

Considering that the MLAs just got finished giving themselves a 71.5-per-cent pay raise last spring – and, no, that’s not a typo – that’s not much of a position of moral authority!

Mr. Lukaszuk, who is also advanced education minister in Ms. Redford’s cabinet, also told the Sun negotiated agreements “may not be ideal because they mean compromise” – although in the case of Bill 46, the government seems to have solved the problem of having to compromise when it comes to “negotiating” with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. That is to say, there are no negotiations, only orders.

Certainly Mr. Lukaszuk and the other members of the committee knew that the government had already agreed to go to arbitration to find an agreement with AUPE when in an act of bad faith they pulled Bills 45 and 46 out of their hats.

It cannot be known with absolute certainty what prompted Mr. Lukaszuk’s apparent vendetta against AUPE in particular, and labour organizations in general, although we have to presume it’s not merely part of a plot to enrich constitutional lawyers with, in Mr. Braid’s delightful phrase, “sugar plum dreams of Supreme Court of Canada arguments dancing in their heads.”

But the public service labour scene in Alberta in the months leading up to the bills’ introduction suggest a plausible interpretation of events in which the confrontational minister – infamous for such shenanigans as a doorstep shoving match with an elderly Wildrose supporter suffering from asthma and liver failure – was infuriated by labour’s refusal to knuckle under to his bullying like a terrified university administrator.

Last April, about 2,500 AUPE Correctional Officers walked off the job in a wildcat strike provoked by the government’s attempts to discipline guards who had complained about dangerous working conditions at the then-new Edmonton Remand Centre.

Both the fanciful costs of this strike dreamed up by the Redford Government and the all-too-real inconvenience it caused have been used as a government talking point to justify the introduction of Bills 45 and 46.

But the illegal strike was neither encouraged nor desired by AUPE’s leadership, which in fact worked desperately behind the scenes to bring the dispute to a quick resolution.

The seeds of the push for Bill 46 in particular, including such childish touches as specifically not allowing AUPE to collect union dues on a lump-some payment in Year 2, are surely connected to the fact Mr. Lukaszuk’s trustworthiness was called into question by AUPE when the deal that ended the strike unraveled in public.

When AUPE President Guy Smith met Mr. Lukaszuk alone in an Edmonton restaurant on April 29 and made the deal, Mr. Smith went out the door sincerely believing the deputy premier had agreed to an amnesty for the ringleaders.

But when it emerged media viewed the agreement as a climb-down for tough-guy Lukaszuk, who just hours before had vowed never to talk to the union while the strike continued, the government quickly changed its story. Eventually, several AUPE members were severely disciplined.

AUPE subsequently filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board in which it said its members felt “betrayed by the government and AUPE and take the position that they were tricked into returning to work.”

The government’s childish response to that was to file a statement calling Mr. Smith a liar who intentionally misled his own members – and then to ensure the confidential filing was leaked to the media.

It’s never been clearly established just who slipped the package to the press, but when the dust settled, the effect of the juvenile gesture was to persuade even more voters the Redford Government could not be trusted to keep any promise.

Days before, using freedom of information requests, the Alberta Federation of Labour and a CBC investigative journalist both revealed yet another example of Mr. Lukaszuk’s modus operandi, dating back to 2011 in the dying days of premier Ed Stelmach’s government.

Then the employment minister, Mr. Lukaszuk had tried to introduce a review of labour legislation without telling any unions about it, the CBC reported. Well, there was one exception: the Christian Labour Association of Canada, a controversial organization favoured by many employers to keep traditional unions out of their workplaces.

Late 2011 seemed an odd time to launch a review, with the government about to change leaders. And the make-up of the two-member review panel hardly inspired confidence – a lawyer with tight connections to the government and another well known for his anti-union views.

However, the CBC and AFL researcher Tony Clark provided a possible explanation for those circumstances.

They published correspondence netted through the FOI request that showed how a group of anti-union contractors (some working with CLAC) tried to tie generous support of the PC Party to specific changes they wanted in the Alberta Labour Code.

The evidence presented by the CBC suggested several influential government members – including Ms. Redford and Mr. Lukaszuk – enthusiastically entertained the group’s lobbying efforts, although they must have known only one member, the virulently anti-union Merit Contractors, was registered as a lobbyist.

By the 2012 election campaign, many of the group’s ideas had made it into the PC Party’s official election platform, where they can be found on page 30. Not long after that, the premier’s staff received a withering letter from a leader of the group that rebuked the PCs for moving too slowly on the file.

The net effect of these revelations was the impression Alberta’s anti-union construction companies demanded, and very nearly got, the chance to write their own governing legislation thanks to a sympathetic employment minister.

It is hard to believe these embarrassing circumstances had no impact the vindictive and unconstitutional final form taken by Bills 45 and 46.

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