Unsatisfying report on leak of former PC leadership candidate’s phone bill fails to answer the questions everyone’s asking

Posted on August 12, 2016, 3:43 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Thomas Lukaszuk in his political heyday during the summer of 2012, telling a scrum of reporters about his bid to run for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party. Below: Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton, former PC premier Alison Redford, and premier pro tempore Dave Hancock, who temporarily replaced Ms. Redford.

MUNICH, Germany

It’s challenging nowadays to travel with your cellular phone turned off and to rely on wireless Internet alone. I’m doing it because of a bad experience with roaming charges … fortunately not my own. Nope, it was Thomas Lukaszuk’s.

ClaytonAlert readers will recall that Mr. Lukaszuk, back in 2012 when he was deputy premier of Alberta, ran up substantial roaming charges while on vacation in Europe. Substantial, in this case, meant $20,243.91 for the transfer of 2.19 gigabytes of data.

What Mr. Lukaszuk was doing at the time meets my definition of government business, although it’s a strange and dramatic story, involving a dead-of-night call from a panicked minister in premier Alison Redford’s cabinet who claimed to be in grave danger. That minister has never been named, and can’t be named now, because of a court order in a family law case.

If there were grounds for hammering Mr. Lukaszuk, they were that he didn’t have an appropriate roaming plan from his Canadian cell phone provider before he ventured off to his native Poland. But then, who does? As noted, not me. If I had an emergency, I’d turn the phone on and to heck with it!

RedfordThe interesting thing from a political science perspective, though, is that the size of the charges didn’t become an issue until 2014, when Mr. Lukaszuk was running for the leadership of the then-ruling Progressive Conservative Party. He was running against Ric McIver, the current PC leader, and Jim Prentice, the former banker and Harper Government cabinet minister who eventually won decisively, only to lose the subsequent May 5, 2015, general election to the NDP.

During the leadership race, however, someone tried to shop the bill around to various opposition politicians, who warned Mr. Lukaszuk what was up.

When that didn’t work, a person or persons unknown leaked Mr. Lukaszuk’s personal information to the media. A copy of Mr. Lukaszuk’s bill was couriered from Calgary to a reporter at the Edmonton Sun. The person who supposedly sent the package turned to have been fraudulently impersonated, a criminal act by the unknown leaker.

Education_Minister_Dave_HancockA predictable – and, from the media’s perspective, entirely justified – brouhaha erupted. All this, as others have noted in the past few hours, was pretty tawdry.

The somebody who organized this, presumably, thought it was worth the effort. As alert readers will recall, leadership of the PC Party at the time was almost universally held to bring with it the certainty of a long and comfortable tenure as the premier of Alberta.

So if you were, say, likely to be a minister in a particular candidate’s cabinet, tawdry or not, a scheme to sink an opposing candidate might have seemed worthwhile.

This said, I’m not certain Mr. Lukaszuk could have beaten Mr. Prentice. He certainly would have had a chance against Mr. McIver had it just been the two of them running. Still, someone obviously asked himself, “Why take the chance?”

It’s hard to disagree with the view the ensuing cell phone “scandal,” timed the way it was, pretty well sank Mr. Lukaszuk as a candidate. In the event, he placed third. It may also have, as he now says, hurt his political future in other ways. (Recently, he’s been rumoured to be considering a run to be mayor of the city of St. Albert, a suggestion he categorically denied the last time I talked to him about it. “Municipal politics are not my thing,” he said then.)

Now, yet another two years later, we have learned through a not particularly helpful report of the Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner’s office that, “on the balance of probabilities,” someone in either Ms. Redford’s cabinet or the cabinet of premier pro tempore Dave Hancock, who temporarily replaced Ms. Redford in late March 2014, leaked the document. Officially, no one knows why. Unofficially, everyone knows why.

But the Privacy Commission investigator didn’t actually try to answer that question, which is the most interesting one in this whole sorry matter. “Determining who might have leaked the information was outside the scope of my investigation,” Brian Hamilton explained in his report.

Given the limits of her authority, about all Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton could say was, Someone broke the law! Naughty! Naughty! Please don’t do it again.

Mr. Lukaszuk bleakly told media we’ll probably never find out whodunit. “This whole file is full of mystery,” he told the CBC.

Seriously? The reality, dear readers, is that everyone paying attention to this story has a pretty good idea who did it, and why it was done. But, for their own sensible reasons, no one wants to be the person to say it out loud. Can’t say I blame them. For one thing, it can’t be proved. For another, whoever spoke up would be called all kinds of nasty names by all of the Usual Suspects.

So what should happen now?

Well, perhaps for starters, someone from the media should go back and forcefully ask Mr. Prentice and Mr. McIver again who they think leaked the information. Really put them on the spot. On the balance of probabilities, as they say, it seems likely one of them knows.

Some reporter could also ask Mr. Hancock why, when he was premier, he never followed through with the thorough investigation he promised into the matter.

Likewise, an aggressive reporter might want to ask the Calgary Police Service why it started an investigation into this matter with considerable vigour, then quietly dropped it. There was, after all, criminally fraudulent behaviour involved. Moreover, politicians then in opposition must know who approached them first.

Questions almost certain to remain beyond the mandate of any investigation are the identity of the minister who called Mr. Lukaszuk as he travelled through Poland back in 2012 and the actual nature of the emergency. For that, the court order would have to be removed.

Still, maybe it’s time for Alberta’s NDP government to tweak the legislative mandate of the Privacy Commissioner so that her office can ask at least some of the questions to which Albertans deserve answers, and so it has some law-enforcement teeth when the law is blatantly broken.

Albertans most certainly are entitled to know which minister was given a copy of Mr. Lukaszuk’s bill by the premier’s office.

That might not turn out to be the person who released it, but it would be a clue, the beginning of a trail of evidence, a string that could be pulled to see what unraveled.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

10 Comments to: Unsatisfying report on leak of former PC leadership candidate’s phone bill fails to answer the questions everyone’s asking

  1. David Khan

    August 12th, 2016

    Unfortunately, as you say, most of us know who the Minister was who was in the “family emergency” and, unfortunately, which Minister leaked the cell phone bill 🙁

    • David Climenhaga

      August 12th, 2016

      Nothing can be done about the first situation. That one belongs to the courts. An aggressive media would go after the second.

      • pogo

        August 16th, 2016

        I’ll try to make this as politically correct as I can. Both Thomas “tweety” Lukaszuk and Jonathan “redacted” Denis, deserve a swift kick in the nads every day of every week until hell freezes over. Am I being too harsh?

  2. TENET

    August 12th, 2016

    George Canyon should strum two chords, yodel, and lament the Alberta Tory story. There are mass graves across this province of the previous government’s “legacy”.

    Every day a new story comes to light about squandered resources and the mass transfer of public assets into private profits. There is a growing indifference. Memories are short. The media need to manufacture new headlines. The recent quarrel about the the full extent of the shocking electrical wealth transfer got short circuited into an accounting exercise instead of a crime against humanity.

    We forget sky palaces, the Air Force, golf course give aways, golden parachutes, lucrative construction projects, and the inexorable steam roller of privatization that laid asunder our province, our future.

  3. Athabascan

    August 12th, 2016

    I would love to see the look on Lukaszuk’s face when he realizes what the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s recommendations or remedies are. He too will be undone by the 40+ years of ineffectual PC rule in the province.

    What most Albertans don’t realize is the FOIPP legislation imposes no penalties on violators beyond a possible letter of apology. Totally useless legislation that looks good in principle.

    Maybe the NDP can amend it to include real penalties?

  4. David

    August 12th, 2016

    If you pull on the string a bit more, it might lead in a slightly different direction. It is possible Mr. Prentice or Mr McIver were involved, although I think not. It is more likely one or both of them have an idea or may know who did it, as the perpetrator may have bragged about it to them perhaps after the fact. Although I doubt either former candidate is inclined to admit knowledge of anything. Prentice has moved on and McIver has a party to still run for a while.

    Yes, this was unfair to Lukaszuk and there should be sanctions (ie. financial penalties) against the office that was not only careless with this information, but where someone seems to have breached privacy deliberately to hurt his campaign. What is the point of having privacy laws if there is no real penalties for breaking them, especially in such an intentional way?

    I don’t know Lukaszuk, but I gather he is a person with some friends and perhaps more enemies. It seems to me the purpose of the leak was to hurt him, not so much to help another campaign, as Prentice was already well ahead and Lukaszuk was not expected to win anyways. Therefore I think the question is not which campaign did it, but which of his enemies did. Unfortunately, that probably broadens the list of suspects rather than narrowing it.

  5. Filostrato

    August 12th, 2016

    Amazing what you can get away with if you know people in high places. Gives those of us without acquaintances at lofty altitudes a great deal of confidence in the system.

    Seems like anything goes when a chance at power is in the offing.

  6. Keith McClary

    August 12th, 2016

    “Determining who might have leaked the information was outside the scope of my investigation,”
    He says:
    “Notably, none of the four individuals affected by this
    disclosure asked the Commissioner to review the matter under section 65(3) of the FOIP
    Act, which would have afforded them additional rights, such as the ability to request an
    inquiry. ”

    If Lukaszuk had asked, then the Commissioner could have investigated this. I wonder why he didn’t ask? I guess he still could. According to FOIPP Act :

    Offences and penalties
    92(1) A person must not wilfully
    (a) collect, use or disclose personal information in contravention of Part 2,

    (2) A person who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of not more than $10 000.

    • Athabascan

      August 13th, 2016

      Nice on paper, but in practice no one’s every been assessed such a fine or one close to it.

      If you can, go ahead and name one person or organization that’s ever been fined $10,000 or any amount for that matter in Alberta. Then, if per chance you find one, calculate how often that happens among all the complaints filed every year.

      • Keith McClary

        August 13th, 2016

        The interesting part is that neither Lukaszuk nor the other three (Tories?) filed a complaint, so OPIC was not required to investigate who-dun-it. I don’t know whether the Commissioner has the authority to investigate on her own initiative if there is no complaint by the persons whose info was disclosed.


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