Wildrose Walk Out: Members Of Opposition Leave Legislature After Gene Zwozdesky Blocks Questions During Question Period

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WILDROSE WALK OUT
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, along with members of her caucus, stormed out of question period Monday after Speaker Gene Zwozdesky barred the opposition party from asking any questions pertaining Premier Alison Redford's role in the awarding of a tobacco lawsuit to her ex-husband's firm. (CP) | CP

If you weren't there for question period in the Alberta assembly on Monday, you likely missed it.

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, along with members of her caucus, stormed out of question period Monday after Speaker Gene Zwozdesky barred the opposition party from asking any questions pertaining Premier Alison Redford's role in the awarding of a tobacco lawsuit to her ex-husband's firm.

Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid notes that Zwozdesky, before ruling Redford was not in contempt of the house, refused to hear any questions from the Wildrose about the tobacco contract, pending his ruling. He did, however, allow similar questions from the NDP and Liberals.

"That really did it," Wildrose house leader and MLA Rob Anderson told the Herald. "When we saw he was allowing them to ask what we were forbidden to ask, there was no point in sticking around."

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According to columnist Graham Thomson with the Edmonton Journal:

"The Wildrose thus found themselves in a legislative catch-22. They wanted to question the premier about allegedly misleading the house but because they had accused her of allegedly misleading the house they weren't allowed to ask her any questions about misleading the house."

The issue is whether Redford misled the house when she claimed to have not been involved in the selection of her ex-husband's law firm to represent the province in $10 billion lawsuit against tobacco companies.

A motion was made last Thursday by the opposition to have Redford found in contempt of the legislature for making misleading statements. To bolster its case, the Wildrose brought out internal documents and memos from Redford's time as justice minister in 2010.

The documents show Redford urged party officials to pick her ex-husband's law firm to sue big tobacco companies for $10 billion to recoup health costs for treating smokers.

"This is getting into a case of semantics, but it is evident there was no final decision made as to the selection of a law firm for the tobacco litigation when the premier was minister of justice," said Zwozdesky.

"The determination of whether the premier's statements were misleading is entirely subjective and depends greatly on the exact nature of the words used."

Shortly after members of the Wildrose walked out, several returned to their seats to ask questions on other topics, but as Thomson notes, "...their frustration over 'tobacco-gate' was very real."

NDP MLA Rachel Notley echoed the sentiment, telling the Edmonton Journal of the "remarkable level of frustration on the part of all opposition members around the difficulty they had in asking questions."

Redford's handling of the tobacco scandal leaves some to believe she lacks the ability to deftly handle damage control.

"(Former Premier Ralph) Klein would have skated through this in about 30 seconds (given) ... his ability to appeal to the public and his incredible sort of sixth sense of where the public was," political analyst David Taras told the Herald.

"What has changed is that (former premier Ed) Stelmach didn't have any of those skills and we're seeing from Redford a real lack of skill in being able to perform in the house, articulate a defence, appeal to the public and know where the public is."

Redford is also being accused of acting like a lawyer in her dealings with her party, legislature and the public.

"You get into this lawyerly discussion about whether it was legal, not legal, you're parsing things. You're trying to win a legal argument," said pollster Marc Henry, a former chief of staff to former Calgary mayor Dave Bronconnier.

"The problem that she's got is, this is not a legal argument. This is an argument in public opinion."

Alberta politics blogger David Cournoyer agrees that the Tories are stumbling through a public relations battle that "should have been easily resolved," and argues their failing to handle the situation properly is only aiding the Wildrose's cause.

Taras told the Herald that Redford faces a bigger battle than just recent accusations brought forth by the opposition. Rather, he says, she is handling the lingering controversies from 41 years of PC government in Alberta.

The Wildrose, however, appear happy to take advantage of their current situation and won't likely back off of Redford and her party any time soon.

"What is this, Romper Room?" asked the Wildrose's Rob Anderson, when the Calgary Sun asked if he had intentions to play nice in legislature.

"Albertans elected us to do something about the culture of corruption so we're going to do something.

"If you don't want to be called on this stuff stop doing it."

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