Public inquiry commissioner Steve Allan campaigned for Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer as he sought a United Conservative Party nomination in 2018, a year before Schweitzer as justice minister effectively appointed Allan to his $290,000 job as inquiry head.
Emails obtained exclusively by CBC News also show that days before the April 2019 provincial election, Allan urged several dozen of his contacts to vote for Schweitzer, in part because “if the UCP wins, there is an excellent chance Doug will be in cabinet.”
The emails show Schweitzer knew about the political support from Allan, and two other business associates, whose firms subsequently benefited from sole-source contracts awarded by Allan as commissioner of the $2.5 million Public Inquiry Into Funding Of Anti-Alberta Energy Campaigns.
“The Kenney government should terminate [Allan] as commissioner because I think the evidence is very clear that he has violated very fundamental rules that completely undermine the independence of the commission and make it an unethical inquiry,” Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher said.
Conacher said Alberta’s ethics commissioner also should investigate Schweitzer.
“Schweitzer should not have participated in the decision to appoint Steve Allan, and violated the Conflicts of Interest Act in doing so,” he said.
Conacher noted the provincial Conflicts of Interests Act prohibits public officials from taking part in a decision that could further the private interests of someone with whom they are directly associated.
“It’s clear they have a relationship where Steve Allan is directly associated with attorney general Schweitzer,” Conacher said.
Allan did not respond to interview requests from CBC News.
Organized country-club event for Schweitzer
Last week, CBC News revealed that Allan personally awarded a $905,000 sole-source contract to Dentons’ Calgary firm, where Allan’s son Toby is a partner. Schweitzer was also a partner at Dentons until his election in April 2019. He has said he severed his relationship with the firm shortly after he was elected.
Allan was appointed the inquiry’s commissioner through a July 4 order-in-council. He was recommended by Schweitzer.
The emails obtained by CBC News detail campaigning by Allan and two of his longtime business associates — Bob Taylor and Quincy Smith — on behalf of Schweitzer.
The three men wrote an invitation to attend a reception for Schweitzer on June 19, 2018 at the Calgary Golf and Country Club. The email was forwarded to hundreds of contacts by Schweitzer’s assistant at Dentons, using the firm’s email. One of the email recipients was Allan’s son Toby.
Under the subject, “Invitation from Steve Allan, Quincy Smith and Bob Taylor,” the email states “we are supporting Doug Schweitzer as he seeks the Calgary-Elbow nomination for the United Conservative Party.”
Smith is a senior partner at Dentons Calgary in its insolvency and bankruptcy division, where Schweitzer was also a partner. Another senior Dentons partner, Bill DeJong, provided an endorsement for Schweitzer that he posted on Schweitzer’s Facebook campaign page.
Taylor is Allan’s former business partner in Richter, Allan & Taylor, a Calgary insolvency accounting firm. The firm did significant business with Dentons through Smith, a source familiar with the industry told CBC News. Allan has also said he had extensive business dealings with Dentons.
Since 2016, Taylor has been a partner with Deloitte in Calgary. Allan also retained Deloitte to work with the public inquiry. Alberta Energy, which administered the inquiry contracts on Allan’s behalf, has not disclosed how much the Deloitte contract is worth.
It’s not clear if Smith or Taylor are involved in the work for the inquiry.
‘Excellent chance Doug will be in cabinet’
“We would like to invite you to join us for a glass of wine at an event that we will be holding for Doug,” the message from Allan, Smith and Taylor states.
“Doug will speak briefly, after which we will have the opportunity to ask questions and have a more in-depth discussion about the issues that we are facing in the upcoming election.”
In an April 8, 2019, email to several dozen contacts, Allan urged them not to vote for popular Alberta Party candidate Greg Clark in the upcoming election.
“Many of you likely received a note from Doug Schweitzer regarding the premier’s visit to Calgary Elbow today,” the email said. “They definitely see the potential for vote splitting among two strong candidates in Doug and Greg Clark, with an opportunity for the NDP to slip up the middle.
“If the UCP wins, there is an excellent chance Doug will be in Cabinet. If we split our votes, we could very well end up having an NDP MLA representing Calgary Elbow.”
Conacher said Allan’s relationship with Smith from Dentons is yet more evidence of his conflict of interest in awarding the $905,000 sole-source contract to the firm.
If the UCP wins, there is an excellent chance Doug will be in Cabinet. If we split our votes, we could very well end up having an NDP MLA representing Calgary Elbow.– Steve Allan, April 2019 email
Furthermore, Allan’s history with Taylor, including the co-campaigning for Schweitzer, is “enough to conclude that Steve Allan also violated ethics rules by hiring Deloitte,” Conacher said.
Allan, Schweitzer, Taylor and Smith did not respond to repeated interview requests from CBC News on Monday.
Donated to Schweitzer’s leadership campaign
CBC News revealed last week that Allan donated $1,000 cash to Schweitzer’s 2017 UCP leadership campaign and that he made two more donations totalling $750 to the UCP in 2018.
Allan has not responded to interview requests from CBC News over the past week. But in a brief text he said his son will not benefit in any way from the $905,000 contract. He did not respond to the specific question of whether his son, as a partner in the firm, would share in Dentons’ profits, a common law-firm arrangement.
A press secretary for Schweitzer said officials were “not aware of any conflict that would prohibit the Inquiry from contracting with Dentons for services.”
But Conacher said a clear conflict of interest existed, since even if Allan’s son does not benefit financially from the contract, his firm will.
The NDP asked Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler to investigate Allan’s awarding of the contract. On Friday, Trussler told them she does not have the jurisdiction to do so, since Allan’s appointment does not designate him as an office holder under provincial legislation.
Subsequently, NDP ethics critic Heather Sweet said the accountability for ensuring Allan followed the government’s code of conduct and ethics now rests with Alberta Energy deputy minister Grant Sprague, with whom Allan signed his employment contract.
In a letter, Sweet asked Sprague to investigate Allan’s actions. On Monday, Sprague told the NDP there would be no investigation because he had determined there was no conflict of interest.
Sprague was involved in a 2012 controversy in which former premier Alison Redford selected a law firm with close personal and political ties for a potentially lucrative tobacco-litigation contract.
Internal documents obtained by CBC News showed senior Justice officials, including Sprague, significantly altered an assessment of one of the competing firms — a firm they had initially ranked last and effectively eliminated from further consideration — which allowed Redford the opportunity to choose it.
Two ethics investigations cleared Redford of conflict of interest allegations.
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