PHOTOS: Former Alberta justice minister Jonathan Denis. Below: Former deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk.

Eeeeew! Saturday was not a good day for Premier Jim Prentice’s sputtering Progressive Conservative election machine, which all of a sudden sounds as if it’s running on about three of eight cylinders.

Tous le monde political Alberta was still abuzz with that poll showing the NDP in the lead and the Wildrose Party also ahead of the premier’s moth-eaten Tory dynasty when the day dawned with word from the Calgary Herald that former PC cabinet minister Thomas Lukaszuk’s $20,000 taxpayer-paid phone bill in 2012 wasn’t the end of that expensive story.

Whoops! The Herald reported – a Wildrose-leaked freedom-of-information search in hand – that Alison Redford’s deputy premier had no sooner finished apologizing for his “expensive lesson,” luckily for him paid for by all of us, than he had a couple more of the same.

Thankfully for the rest of us, this time it wasn’t on quite the scale of the original roaming charges run up for government business in November 2012 while Mr. Lukaszuk was on vacation in Poland and Israel. Still, another $2,675 in extra charges just two months after the original lesson was supposedly learned was not an ideal news item from the PC perspective with the election only nine days away.

Well, at least Mr. Prentice kicked Mr. Lukaszuk out of cabinet as soon as he took up the reins of power last summer – which may account for why the St. Albert resident has lately been adopting NDP positions as he fights to hang onto his seat representing the Edmonton-Castle Down riding.

But that small revelation was nothing compared to the bombshell that broke later in the day when Albertans learned Mr. Prentice had just fired another former Redford minister, this one still in his cabinet, for … something.

Just what prompted the forced resignation is not 100-per-cent clear. As Facebook used to say in its then-limited list of ways one was allowed to describe one’s personal relationship, “it’s complicated…”

Mr. Prentice banished his justice minister and solicitor general from cabinet because of, in the words of the Herald, “court proceedings between himself and his estranged wife,” Breanna Palmer.

The details as outlined in news reports were foggy – the “legal proceedings” between the baby-faced MLA and the former Miss Universe Alberta, who have been married for only about six months, are said not to be a divorce and not to involve criminal charges. They may very well be irrelevant.

The problem from the premier’s perspective – although this isn’t totally clear either – appears to be that Mr. Denis didn’t bother to inform his boss about something that could have been characterized as a conflict given his important cabinet position.

In other words, the minister in charge of the courts ought not to be in court.

Mr. Prentice, according to the Herald, “said he asked Denis to step down when he became aware of the court case Saturday morning.” (Emphasis added.)

The premier told the newspaper Mr. Denis would remain as the PC candidate for Calgary-Acadia – where someone has been engaged in an embarrassing campaign defacing his election signs.

In the past, however, Mr. Prentice has not been shy about pushing out candidates with the potential for embarrassing the PC campaign – for example, Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Naresh Bhardwaj, who was encouraged to step aside very quickly in March after he faced unproved allegations of bribery.

So it seems likely Mr. Denis only remains a PC candidate because nominations have now closed and it would be impossible to get another Tory’s name onto the ballot in the riding.

The Alberta NDP and Wildrose Party prudently eschewed commenting on the imbroglio.

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  1. Mr Lukaszuk’s phone bills play well into the Wildrose narrative that the key to being able to afford the services Albertans want without reforming the tax structure is simply to stamp out government waste and excess like this. However, while this is indeed a worthy goal, the Wildrose is forgetting about orders of magnitude (maybe math is hard for them, too).

    It might, and I emphasize might, be possible to find a few million dollars here and there in this way, but there are most certainly not billions of dollars to be found from this source. And the revenue gap we face because of PC mismanagement is in the billions, with a ‘b’, not just millions with an ‘m’. Yet here we have the Wildrose, and their MSM cheering section, getting all lathered up over a mere few thousands?

    It makes no sense…

  2. There is a new problem for Prentice and the Wild Rose alike. McLean’s ran a story about the Wild Rose that was in effect a bombshell. The executive of the Wild Rose unanimously voted not to change the platform the Wild Rose was running on. The same platform that Daniel Smith ran on until she was so far down in the polls she couldn’t see light.

    Jean can talk or not talk but his politic thanks to the Executive is dam near a duplicate of the US Republican platform.

    That means that Jean is still counting on balancing the books by simply not paying transfer payments. He ignores the fact he would need 5 other provinces on side with him to pull this off and, that’s not likely. Hard for him to stand up on a national TV broadcast and explain this one.

    Then again the Republican plan for hospitals is still alive and well in the US. You have a hospital for those with coverage and a second hospital for the indigenous people; those who do not have a house to mortgage or put a lean on to pay hospital bills or, not working simply don’t have enough of anything to pay for a hospital stay.

    Sending patients out side the province (I never heard him say to the US but he might have) for treatment is what he will do willingly. This will drive up medical costs to point he can go to the public and say the system is not working’ its broke. Its time now for my solution, private health care entirely. And if you are a senior who at 75 decided to travel to the US you can find out how pricey and temporary coverage can be even for a few days.

    I recall Danielle Smith being interviewed on cutting NIASH and welfare in general. She was asked “what about the pregnant mom at home?” and she replied “She would have to work for her government income; there must be something she can do” That is a typical Republican Response and its where Jean is at whether he wants to admit it or not.

  3. From the Calgary Herald:

    Premier Jim Prentice said he asked Denis to step down when he became aware of the court case Saturday morning.

    In a brief interview with the Herald, Prentice would not go into details of the situation but said there are no criminal charges involved.

    He said there is a legal issue but not divorce proceedings.

    “The essence of it is that you cannot be the minister of justice and attorney general if you have a personal matter in front of the courts. Those are the rules and I will always ensure that they are strictly enforced,” he said.

    What rules would those be? The CONFLICTS OF INTEREST ACT says:

    Decisions furthering private interests
    2(1) A Member breaches this Act if the Member takes part in a
    decision in the course of carrying out the Member’s office or
    powers knowing that the decision might further a private interest of
    the Member …

    Unless Denis interfered in a Civil court case, he wouldn’t be in violation. I don’t think a Justice Minister has to resign if someone files a small-claims suit against him.

    There must be more to this than Prentice is telling us.

  4. God forbid any of our intrepid mainstream media types should get to the bottom of this before the election to inform the voting public.

    The mainstream media is pulling all the stops to try and hold back the orange wave.

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