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Will ethics investigation clear Redford of conflict?

Ethics commissioner Neil Wilkinson advised Premier Alison Redford he will investigate allegations she mislead the legislature

Did she or didn't she?

Ethics commissioner Neil Wilkinson has advised Premier Alison Redford he will investigate incessant opposition allegations she mislead the legislature and all Albertans about her involvement in the awarding of a $10 billion tobacco litigation contract to a law consortium connected to her ex-husband.

For months Redford has denied she made the decision to award the contracts to International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers (ITRL). She maintains the decision was made by her successor as justice minister, Verlyn Olson, after she left cabinet on Feb. 16, 2011 to arrange her successful run for the Progressive Conservative party leadership.

Opposition parties have now convinced the ethics commissioner there is at least enough evidence to investigate whether Redford breached sections of the Conflicts of Interest Act. They have documents that show the premieress in December 2010 and January 2011 had selected ITRL and instructed department officials to advise the successful firm and runners up that,

"Shortly before Christmas, Minister Redford selected the International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers." And an email was sent Jan. 6, 2011 from a partner in one of the firms in the ITRL consortium saying, "We were very happy to learn that we will be working with you on the health care recovery claim." Redford maintains the final contract to award the deal to the firm that included her ex-husband was signed in the summer of 2011 while she was out on the barbecue circuit drumming up votes for the leadership.

Instead of pussyfooting around the issue with legal technicalities, Redford should have said ITRL offered the best deal for the government and Alberta, and state unequivocally the accusations of conflict are baseless.

Oddly, but then again maybe not if you have an intimate understanding of the relationship between exes, former spouses are not covered in the government's conflict of interest guidelines.

Of course, Redford could have been proactive and asked the ethics commissioner for his opinion before it all hit the farm.

It doesn't help the perception of her innocence when the usually unflappable speaker, Gene Zwozdesky, stuck his neck out by ruling Redford did not lie to the house and then slammed the door to Wildrose questions about the tobacco litigation contract — going so far as to disallow any discussion that mentioned the word tobacco.

The ethics commissioner's investigation should keep the opposition wolves at bay for a while but there's still the matter of hospital queue jumping by Friends of the Party, expense claims from the premier's sister, questionable donations from Oilers owner Daryl Katz among others, a $6-billion budget deficit, service cuts to seniors basic health and personal services, hospital wait times, borrowing billions for provincial infrastructure, and a forced contract on doctors.

2013 is shaping up to be a watershed year for transparency and accountability under the dome.