The Edmonton Journal’s main headline today, “Speaker clears Redford” takes its place on the list least surprising headlines ever, right up there with “Winter will be cold” and “City to raise taxes”.
There was never any doubt that Speaker Gene Zwozdesky would find some way to proclaim that Premier Alison Redford in no way misled the Legislature when she said “I was not the justice minister at the time the government made that decision” to award a potentially lucrative lawsuit against the tobacco industry to a firm that included her ex-husband. Redford was always in the clear on the point of privilege raised by Wildrose’s snarler-in-chief Rob Anderson. The only way Zwozdesky would ever find a member of the government lied to the Legislature would be if … OK, I actually can’t think of a situation where Zwozdesky would ever make that ruling, regardless of how egregious the lie might be.
This led to the most bizarre day of question period I’ve ever seen. On Monday, Zwoz uncovered an obscure reference in the rules of parliament that said that when a question of privilege is raised, there can be no further questions on the issue until the matter was addressed by the speaker. And since Zwoz had yet to make his ruling, that meant any questions involving the use of the words “tobacco” and “lawsuit” would be ruled ineligible. So, whenever Wildrose leader Danielle Smith rose to ask a question that the Wildrosers desperately want to call “Tobacco-gate” (just like the Wildrose to use a painfully dated reference), she was shut down. Baffled and clearly not too quick on her feet, Smith soldiered on, and Zwozdesky shut her down every time, sounding oh-so-apologetic at first, then completely frustrated.
Then it got really weird, as members rose to challenge the speaker. When Pope Kenneth the First, speaker Ken Kowalski, ruled the chamber, nobody would ever have dared to rise and question his authority. Kowalski would have not only shut down the questioner, he would also have put their names in his naughty MLA list. The fact that MLAs have no problem with questioning Zwozdesky’s authority shows just how little respect the opposition has for him.
As if that wasn’t weird enough, some sharper MLAs got what Zwozdesky was talking about, and found a way to twist their questions around so the word “tobacco” and “lawsuit” was never mentioned. Consider this ludicrous dance between ND leader Brian Mason and Zwozdesky:
Mr. Mason: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Well, what’s sauce for goose is sauce for the gander.
Given that Albertans need to have confidence that their Premier knows how to avoid situations that might create a conflict of interest or the appearance of bias and given that they have a right to demand complete honesty as well, why won’t the Premier do the right thing and step aside until this matter is fully investigated?
The Speaker: Hon. members, I’m not sure what the hon. member was referring to. He didn’t seem to mention any case in particular if someone from the government side wishes to answer.
Seriously. This is how stupid the whole thing got.
Of course, the whole imbroglio could have been avoided if Zwozdesky had warned the opposition parties in advance, in writing, that he would not allow any questions about the tobacco lawsuit. Perhaps he did, but I haven’t heard or seen any evidence of the advance warning.
As for this whole so-called scandal, it’s time the Wildrose and the Liberals and the New Democrats moved on. Yes, the evidence clearly shows Redford wanted her ex-husband’s firm to handle the lawsuit. But, dealings with ex-spouses are not considered to be conflicts of interest (most ex-spouses are mortal enemies, so this makes sense). Did Redford stand to gain by awarding the contract to her ex-husband’s firm? No. They are not married anymore, and have gone their separate ways. It is true that they have remained close (good for them!), and that ex-hubby even led her transition team. But there is no law against anything Redford did. This is Alberta, where Tory friends help each other all the time. Redford should have said come clean at the time the first questions were raised, instead of hiding behind legalities. But she didn’t do anything legally wrong.
Bottom line: it’s time the Wildrose went on to other things. This so-called “scandal” is simply not resonating with Albertans. There is no question Redford massaged the truth when she said she didn’t make the decision, but the Wildrose won’t be able to destroy Redford’s reputation for integrity with this weak gruel.