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Monday, April 27, 2009

Alberta Liberals Show Shabby Side With Conflict of Interest Ploy

I watched Question Period today and then received an emailed news release from the Alberta Liberals on the same thing - and both events irritated me. The problem is encapsulated in the title on the new release. It says: Conflicts of Interest in AIMCo-Precision Deal? Notice the question mark! Why the question mark?

Full disclosure, regular readers know I am a card carrying member of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, If you are a new reader you may not be aware of that fact but you need to know that so you can judge this blog post in context.

I also have enormous respect for David Swann and have met with him and communicate with him on a semi-regular basis. I also joined the Alberta Liberal Party to support his recent leadership bid. I applaud his effort to revitalize the Alberta Liberals and value the role of the opposition in our form of government. Now that is all out of the way let’s deal the issues.

The allegations and implications in the QP and in the Alberta LIberal Party news release around conflicts of interest are very unfair. If there is a concern of conflict of interest there is a much better and effective way to deal with it. This effort by the Liberals is so far just a fishing expedition and nothing but allegation and innuendo. It is a good for grabbing headlines but does a serious disservice to democracy and good governance.

To question the Minister in the Legislature as one of the Liberal MLAs did today gives parliamentary immunity to the Member who raises the question. That means they can say whatever they want in the Legislature and they can’t be sued for liable for any comments made in the Legislature. This put the individual citizens who are the targets of the allegations and the damning implications about their character and reputations at a serious disadvantage.

AIMCo is an arms-length Crown Corporation and if there is evidence of conflict of interest it ought to be brought to the attention of the Board of Directors of that entity. Conflating the responsibility of AIMCo and requiring in Question Period the Minister of Finance and Enterprise “…to review the situation and prove to the Assembly tomorrow that the Vice-Chair of AIMCo recused himself from all discussion regarding the Precision deal” if shabby at best. This is potentially pure politics at its worst. The proof of that is how the Liberal new release characterized the Minister’s response as pleading “ignorance and, furthermore was unconcerned by the news.”

What the news in this? Innuendo and allegation of “concerns” and “potential” conflicts of interest are not news. News is based on facts. This is just the stuff of politics, pure and simplistic. The media will have a field day with it. But as it stands right now, there are no facts proven and not much by way of evidence being presented to help prove these serious allegations.

The Liberal Party news release offers no evidence of conflict of interest and only alludes to some vague weasel words in support of “the case” like “raised concerns” and “longstanding friends and business partners” and “highlighting potential conflict of interest.” They then attach a Corporate Registry search of another company with a head office in B.C. Is that all the evidence they have of a “potential” conflict of interest? They don’t mention directly the names of the parties they presume to be in potential conflict of interest and so they impugn the reputation of every name on the list in the Corporate Registry search.

The proper course of action for the Liberals to have taken, if there was a legitimate concern about conflict of interest would be to write to the Board of Directors of AIMCo and ask to have a Certified True copy of the Board Minutes on the Precision Drilling investment decision. Those minutes should show who was in the room and who was not; and it ought to show how the Board voted on the Precision deal.

That would clear the air or indicate a need for real concern if the matter was not handled properly by the AIMCo Board. Today we have no evidence of any wrong doing and only odious politics at play.

That voting information and decision of AIMCo is not proprietary and should not be confidential since it is public money we have entrusted to them and it is being used here. If there was failure refusal or neglect by the AIMCo Board to provide the information then perhaps the government could be asked to ensure the release the information publicly.

I am disappointed in how cavalierly politicians sometime approach issues of personal reputation of private citizens who contribute their time and talents to the common good of the province. It does not happen very often but when it does it undermines our democracy and adds to the continuing cynicism of citizens about our political culture.

I hope that the Alberta Liberals will withdraw their premature demand of the Minister of Finance and Enterprise and hope they pursue any concerns they have using good governance practices in pursuing their goal. The tactics they have employed so far is designed to be a headline hunting political gambit. I expected better of the Alberta Liberals and Albertans deserve better of their politicians regardless of party affiliation.