Alberta’s Opposition New Democrats have asked the province’s ethics commissioner to review a $905,000 sole-source contract awarded by the head of a continuing public inquiry to his son’s law firm.
A public database of sole-source contracts shows that commissioner Steve Allan’s inquiry hired Dentons Canada LLP in July shortly after he was appointed. Mr. Allan’s son, Toby, is a partner at the firm, although the commissioner says his son was not involved in the contract.
The inquiry, a key campaign promise for the governing United Conservatives, is examining allegations that environmental groups that have opposed pipelines and oil infrastructure in Alberta are funded by U.S. foundations. It has a budget of $2.5-million and is part of a wider strategy to push back against perceived enemies of the province’s resource sector.
Heather Sweet, the NDP’s critic for democracy and ethics, wrote to the ethics commissioner on Thursday, asking for an investigation into whether the contract ran afoul of a conflict-of-interest law. She said Mr. Allan’s appointment means that he must abide by conflict-of-interest provisions in the province’s Public Service Act.
“Any perceived conflict of interest, if you’re employed by the government, you need to recuse yourself,” Ms. Sweet told reporters in Edmonton. “He never should have appointed this contract."
Mr. Allan, a forensic accountant, said in an e-mailed statement that his son had no role in the contract and is not working on the file. He said he hired Dentons because he has a long history working with the firm.
“I require a law firm in which I have full trust, both as to capability and competency,” he wrote, adding that the government advised him that there would be no conflict if he hired the firm.
Mr. Allan said he also hired David Wachowich from another law firm, Rose LLP, to work for the inquiry.
Jonah Mozeson, the press secretary to the province’s Justice Minister, said in a statement that the government has no role in directing the commissioner’s work. He said the ministry does not see any reason why the inquiry could not hire Dentons and is confident all of the rules have been followed.
The complaints about the Dentons contract follow other recent concerns about spending by the UCP government, notably the Premier’s office.
Also on Thursday, the NDP asked the auditor-general to look into the travel expenses of David Knight-Legg, who is Premier Jason Kenney’s principal adviser. Mr. Knight-Legg spent nearly $19,000 on four trips to London earlier this year, bringing his total expense claims to about $45,000 since the UCP formed government six months ago.
“We’re asking the auditor-general to hold this Premier to account, to make sure that any public dollar that he’s using is having a good return for Albertans and that it’s open and transparent,” Ms. Sweet said.
Mr. Kenney’s office said Mr. Knight-Legg’s work is focusing on attracting investment and that his expenses are reasonable given the high cost of staying in London.
Last week, the Premier’s office also faced criticism over a $16,000 charter flight in July that carried Mr. Kenney, the Premiers of Ontario and Saskatchewan and their spouses, from Calgary to a premiers’ meeting in Saskatoon. The premiers were in Calgary for a Stampede-themed photo-op.
Mr. Kenney’s office said it was an important meeting to build relationships with other premiers.
With a report from The Canadian Press
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