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CBC journalist Charles Rusnell: Slaying Alberta's Tory dragon, one scandal at a time …

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Charles Rusnell

You'd think it would be easy to run a petroleum-soaked, cash-rich jurisdiction like Alberta, but a day seldom seems to pass out here on the western edge of the Great Plains without our governing Progressive Conservative Party suffering another pratfall or embarrassment.

But how many Albertans know that so many of these scandals bedevilling our permanent governing party have been uncovered by the same guy -- a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. investigative reporter named Charles Rusnell?

It was Rusnell who broke stories on, among other things, former Tory leadership candidate and senior minister Ted Morton's bogus government email account; a host of illegal political donations, including the one from Athabasca University; Tobaccogate, wherein a law firm that had the premier's ex-husband for a partner got picked for years of highly lucrative legal work; former Alberta Health Services CFO Allaudin Merali and his wonderful expense account; Alison Redford's sister's iffy political donations; and the disturbing tale of the whistleblower at Transcanada Pipelines.

The latest Conservative caucus calamity (C3) uncovered by Rusnell is the troubling case of Peter Sandhu, the Tory MLA for Edmonton-Manning, who since his election in 2008 has generally been assessed as a legislative under-performer but not much more.

A low performance rating is no barrier to re-election around here, however, as long as the MLA in question has official permission to put his or her face on a blue-and-orange PC lawn sign, something Sandhu proved in April 2012. 

Nevertheless, Sandhu is performing well beyond specifications in the press clippings department right now -- indeed, to such a degree that he's at least temporarily no longer a member of Premier Alison Redford's PC caucus.

On Tuesday, the Edmonton investigative staff of the CBC was reporting that Sandhu's house-building company, NewView Homes, not only has a history of chronic debt and faces dozens lawsuits for unpaid bills, but a goodly portion of its liabilities weren't properly disclosed as required of an MLA under the province's Conflicts of Interest Act.

Worse, Rusnell revealed, his investigation "uncovered a false statement made by the MLA in a sworn affidavit filed in a civil court case involving a dispute over an alleged debt." The CBC says it can show Sandhu was in Canada at a time he swore he was in India.

Yikes! Now the opposition parties of the left and right are screaming for Sandhu's head and demanding that the RCMP step in and lay charges.

The Redford Government would really rather do nothing at all, thank you very much. Premier Redford and Human Services Minister Dave Hancock -- who is also the Government House Leader and as readers of this blog will recall, according to the Edmonton Journal the moral compass of the Tory caucus -- lamely tried to praise Sandhu for doing "the honourable thing" and jumping before he was pushed.

So, is Rusnell on a crusade against the Progressive Conservatives?

No doubt it seems that way deep inside the Redford cabinet bunker, but it's said here that it wouldn't really matter which party was in power, Rusnell would be going after bad behavior with the same pit-bull fervor.

Charles Rusnell is just one of those guys who can't stand hypocrisy, special dealing, rule breaking, insider trading and the idea that the law is for everyone else -- just the sort of things you’d expect to be rampant in a province that has been run by the same party for 42 years and essentially the same crowd for almost twice that long. Really, probably the only way to get him off your case is to behave yourself.

If Rusnell were a police officer, he'd be the kind of cop who'd ticket the chief's car at a funeral. Instead, he's a former print reporter with a lot of knowhow about filing Freedom of Information requests.

Years ago, Rusnell worked for the Edmonton Journal, but they pushed him over the side along with many other skilled senior reporters who cost too much and knew too much for the beancounters in Ontario who run the paper.

So nowadays, while the investigation-free daily timorously ducks behind its leaky new paywall, Rusnell wins awards and breaks scandals one after the other for the national public broadcaster, which is hated by Conservatives everywhere for doing just this kind of thing.

I wouldn't be at all surprised Rusnell will be breaking another C3 very soon.

Meanwhile, in other news, Merali, the former AHS CFO, is back in the news, demanding the payment of the $580,000 severance package he was denied when he was made to walk the plank for embarrassing the government when his sometimes lavish expenses turned up in one of Rusnell's most famous reports.

And reading between the lines of the news coverage Wednesday, it sounds very much as if the people who run AHS recognize they're going to have to pay him -- which will be yet one more serious embarrassment for the Redford Government.

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

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