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Lurching Tory election machine hits new potholes as phone bills come due and justice minister ordered to quit

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Jonathan Denis

Eeeeew! Saturday was not a good day for Premier Jim Prentice's sputtering Progressive Conservative election machine, which all of a sudden sounds as if it’s running on about three of eight cylinders.

Tous le monde political Alberta was still abuzz with that poll showing the NDP in the lead and the Wildrose Party also ahead of the premier's moth-eaten Tory dynasty when the day dawned with word from the Calgary Herald that former PC cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk's $20,000 taxpayer-paid phone bill in 2012 wasn't the end of that expensive story.

Whoops! The Herald reported -- a Wildrose-leaked freedom-of-information search in hand -- that Alison Redford's deputy premier had no sooner finished apologizing for his "expensive lesson," luckily for him paid for by all of us, than he had a couple more of the same.

Thankfully for the rest of us, this time it wasn't on quite the scale of the original roaming charges run up for government business in November 2012 while Lukaszuk was on vacation in Poland and Israel. Still, another $2,675 in extra charges just two months after the original lesson was supposedly learned was not an ideal news item from the PC perspective with the election only nine days away.

Well, at least Prentice kicked Lukaszuk out of cabinet as soon as he took up the reins of power last summer -- which may account for why the St. Albert resident has lately been adopting NDP positions as he fights to hang onto his seat representing the Edmonton-Castle Down riding.

But that small revelation was nothing compared to the bombshell that broke later in the day when Albertans learned Prentice had just fired another former Redford minister, this one still in his cabinet, for … something.

Just what prompted the forced resignation is not 100-per-cent clear. As Facebook used to say in its then-limited list of ways one was allowed to describe one's personal relationship, "it's complicated…"

Prentice banished his justice minister and solicitor general from cabinet because of, in the words of the Herald, "court proceedings between himself and his estranged wife," Breanna Palmer.

The details as outlined in news reports were foggy -- the "legal proceedings" between the baby-faced MLA and the former Miss Universe Alberta, who have been married for only about six months, are said not to be a divorce and not to involve criminal charges. They may very well be irrelevant.

The problem from the premier's perspective -- although this isn't totally clear either -- appears to be that Denis didn't bother to inform his boss about something that could have been characterized as a conflict given his important cabinet position.

In other words, the minister in charge of the courts ought not to be in court.

Prentice, according to the Herald, "said he asked Denis to step down when he became aware of the court case Saturday morning." (Emphasis added.)

The premier told the newspaper Denis would remain as the PC candidate for Calgary-Acadia -- where someone has been engaged in an embarrassing campaign defacing his election signs.

In the past, however, Prentice has not been shy about pushing out candidates with the potential for embarrassing the PC campaign -- for example, Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Naresh Bhardwaj, who was encouraged to step aside very quickly in March after he faced unproved allegations of bribery.

So it seems likely Denis only remains a PC candidate because nominations have now closed and it would be impossible to get another Tory's name onto the ballot in the riding.

The Alberta NDP and Wildrose Party prudently eschewed commenting on the imbroglio.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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