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Everythinggate: Perfect storm lands Alberta premier in shark-infested waters!

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John Vertes

As the political gong show continued yesterday in Edmonton, it was becoming increasingly apparent Premier Alison Redford is the Paul Martin of Alberta.

Don't scoff at this suggestion! Alert readers will recall that Martin was the last Liberal Prime Minister of Canada, the fellow whose idea of dealing with a scandal was setting up that Royal Commission led by Justice John Gomery to "get to the bottom" of things.

Well, we all know how that ended!

With Premier Redford trying vainly to put out several serious fires at the same time, it seems very much as if her political crisis-management skills, and those of her closest advisors, may be even worse than those of the unlamented Martin and his accident-prone strategy team.

Still, Premier Redford can't be blamed completely for the timing as everything comes unraveled at once, a phenomenon known to mainstream journalists as "a perfect storm."

Where to start? Well, the Speaker of the Alberta Legislature ruled yesterday that the Premier did not mislead the House when she told MLAs last week she had nothing to do with the appointment of her ex-husband's law firm as part in the government's multi-billion lawsuit against Big Tobacco, a case expected to take years and rake in millions in legal fees.

Redford told the House she'd stepped down from her job as justice minister to run for her current position when the decision was made. Memoranda produced by CBC journalists and Opposition MLAs suggested otherwise. So Wildrose House Leader Rob Anderson rose on a point of privilege in the House and accused Redford of breaking the rules by not being entirely forthright.

Speaker Gene Zwozdesky ruled yesterday in the premier's favour -- a development the Progressive Conservative government will try to pass off as a victory. But his careful explanation won't exactly sink the Opposition's case. "Legislatures must accept that there can be two different perspectives on the same set of facts," the Edmonton Journal summarized. "But that does not constitute a breach of the rules or of privilege."

And so, said Zwozdesky, "this matter is now concluded." It is, of course, nothing of the sort.

Meanwhile, today also marked the beginning of Alberta's long-awaited non-judicial inquiry into stuff other than physician intimidation in the province's health-care system.

When doctors and Opposition politicians started demanding a judicial inquiry back in 2010 into claims medical professionals were being bullied by influential figures tied to the government, they got instead a non-judicial investigation restricted to medical queue-jumping conducted by the Health Quality Council of Alberta, which answers to the government. John Vertes, a former judge, was asked to lead the effort.

This must've seemed like a pretty clever dodge to the government at the time they set it up -- putting the inquiry off while things were hot with something that could be passed off as a judicial inquiry without as much risk as having a real un-retired judge looking into whatever he or she pleased.

Who would have thought the inquiry would start at the same moment as everything else was hitting the fan? It's like … Everythinggate!

Among the witnesses scheduled to appear soon before former Justice Vertes' $10-million investigation:

-    Former Alberta Health Services supremo Stephen Duckett, the fellow who discontinued the practice of allowing "discreet go-to guys" in the province's health regions to help MLAs who wanted friends and constituents moved up health care waiting lists. Duckett, of course, was fired in November 2010 by Redford's predecessor, Ed Stelmach, after an unscripted encounter with several reporters and a cookie. It's probably safe to expect the PhD economist, who will testify from his home in Australia via video link, feels he owes nothing to the PC government.

-    Alberta Health Services VP Lynn Redford, the premier’s sister, fingered by the CBC as someone who made donations of food, supplies and booze to functions run by her sister's political party, then successfully expensed them to her employer of the day, the Calgary Health Region. The question is likely to be asked if she was one of the go-to guys.

-    Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, who before his reincarnation as an Opposition politician was also fired by Stelmach from his role as PC Parliamentary Secretary for Health. Sherman's sin involved making accusations his fellow doctors were being pushed around by health bureaucrats. He too is unlikely to do the government any favours, except perhaps inadvertently.

Well, as they say in professional hockey -- even when they’re not lining up for advance vaccinations during an influenza panic -- timing is everything.

Given the timing of this inquiry, you can count on it that pandemonium will ensue.

Then, as if that all this were not enough, Alberta Health Services started posting all its senior executives' expense accounts online yesterday too.

There's probably not much there to get too excited about, else they wouldn't be doing it. Leastways, there won't be any more expensive bottles of wine like those successfully expensed by former AHS Chief Financial Officer Alauddin Merali back when he was CFO of Capital Health Services.

Still, one can't shake the feeling additional mischief is sure to result once every busybody in Alberta with a blog or a Twitter account starts combing through the lists looking for something to screech about.

And those just the things that happened yesterday!

Never mind the still lingering questions about that $430,000 11th-hour election donation to Redford's PCs from Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz and all his friends and relations. That one, which was dominating the Alberta news cycle just before Halloween, is being looked into by Elections Alberta, which surely will have to report eventually too.

Oh well. Presumably the government's strategy is for everything to have been forgotten by the time the next provincial election rolls around, unavoidably scheduled thanks to Redford's fixed-election-period law in the spring of 2016.

The Opposition's strategy is to allow nothing of the sort to happen, but to use the generous publicity opportunities provided by these developments and others to paint the PCs as rotten to the core every day until voting day.

Given Redford's crisis management skills to date, one hesitates to bet against the opposition!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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