Former Alberta PC cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk

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It’s challenging nowadays to travel with your cellular phone turned off and to rely on wireless Internet alone. I’m doing it because of a bad experience with roaming charges…fortunately not my own. Nope, it was Thomas Lukaszuk’s.

Alert readers will recall that Lukaszuk, back in 2012 when he was deputy premier of Alberta, ran up substantial roaming charges while on vacation in Europe. Substantial, in this case, meant $20,243.91 for the transfer of 2.19 gigabytes of data.

What Lukaszuk was doing at the time meets my definition of government business, although it’s a strange and dramatic story, involving a dead-of-night call from a panicked minister in premier Alison Redford’s cabinet who claimed to be in grave danger. That minister has never been named, and can’t be named now, because of a court order in a family law case.

If there were grounds for hammering Lukaszuk, they were that he didn’t have an appropriate roaming plan from his Canadian cell phone provider before he ventured off to his native Poland. But then, who does? As noted, not me. If I had an emergency, I’d turn the phone on and to heck with it!

The interesting thing from a political science perspective, though, is that the size of the charges didn’t become an issue until 2014, when Mr. Lukaszuk was running for the leadership of the then-ruling Progressive Conservative Party. He was running against Ric McIver, the current PC leader, and Jim Prentice, the former banker and Harper Government cabinet minister who eventually won decisively, only to lose the subsequent May 5, 2015, general election to the NDP. 

During the leadership race, however, someone tried to shop the bill around to various opposition politicians, who warned Lukaszuk what was up. 

When that didn’t work, a person or persons unknown leaked Lukaszuk’s personal information to the media. A copy of Lukaszuk’s bill was couriered from Calgary to a reporter at the Edmonton Sun. The person who supposedly sent the package turned to have been fraudulently impersonated, a criminal act by the unknown leaker.

A predictable — and, from the media’s perspective, entirely justified — brouhaha erupted. All this, as others have noted in the past few hours, was pretty tawdry.

The somebody who organized this, presumably, thought it was worth the effort. As alert readers will recall, leadership of the PC Party at the time was almost universally held to bring with it the certainty of a long and comfortable tenure as the premier of Alberta.

So if you were, say, likely to be a minister in a particular candidate’s cabinet, tawdry or not, a scheme to sink an opposing candidate might have seemed worthwhile.  

This said, I’m not certain Mr. Lukaszuk could have beaten Prentice. He certainly would have had a chance against McIver had it just been the two of them running. Still, someone obviously asked himself, “Why take the chance?”

It’s hard to disagree with the view the ensuing cell phone “scandal,” timed the way it was, pretty well sank Lukaszuk as a candidate. In the event, he placed third. It may also have, as he now says, hurt his political future in other ways. (Recently, he’s been rumoured to be considering a run to be mayor of the city of St. Albert, a suggestion he categorically denied the last time I talked to him about it. “Municipal politics are not my thing,” he said then.)

Now, yet another two years later, we have learned through a not particularly helpful report of the Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office that, “on the balance of probabilities,” someone in either Redford’s cabinet or the cabinet of premier pro tempore Dave Hancock, who temporarily replaced Redford in late March 2014, leaked the document. Officially, no one knows why. Unofficially, everyone knows why.

But the Privacy Commission investigator didn’t actually try to answer that question, which is the most interesting one in this whole sorry matter. “Determining who might have leaked the information was outside the scope of my investigation,” Brian Hamilton explained in his report.

Given the limits of her authority, about all Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton could say was, Someone broke the law! Naughty! Naughty! Please don’t do it again.

Lukaszuk bleakly told media we’ll probably never find out whodunit. “This whole file is full of mystery,” he told the CBC. 

Seriously? The reality, dear readers, is that everyone paying attention to this story has a pretty good idea who did it, and why it was done. But, for their own sensible reasons, no one wants to be the person to say it out loud. Can’t say I blame them. For one thing, it can’t be proved. For another, whoever spoke up would be called all kinds of nasty names by all of the Usual Suspects.

So what should happen now? 

Well, perhaps for starters, someone from the media should go back and forcefully ask Prentice and McIver again who they think leaked the information. Really put them on the spot. On the balance of probabilities, as they say, it seems likely one of them knows. 

Some reporter could also ask Hancock why, when he was premier, he never followed through with the thorough investigation he promised into the matter.

Likewise, an aggressive reporter might want to ask the Calgary Police Service why it started an investigation into this matter with considerable vigour, then quietly dropped it. There was, after all, criminally fraudulent behaviour involved. Moreover, politicians then in opposition must know who approached them first. 

Questions almost certain to remain beyond the mandate of any investigation are the identity of the minister who called Lukaszuk as he travelled through Poland back in 2012 and the actual nature of the emergency. For that, the court order would have to be removed.

Still, maybe it’s time for Alberta’s NDP government to tweak the legislative mandate of the Privacy Commissioner so that her office can ask at least some of the questions to which Albertans deserve answers, and so it has some law-enforcement teeth when the law is blatantly broken.

Albertans most certainly are entitled to know which minister was given a copy of Lukaszuk’s bill by the premier’s office. 

That might not turn out to be the person who released it, but it would be a clue, the beginning of a trail of evidence, a string that could be pulled to see what unraveled.

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Image: Dave Cournoyer 

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...