Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s epic meltdown in front of his neighbour’s home last weekend allows an important debate to be reopened about the appearance of conflict of interest in political families and the weakness of Alberta’s conflict-of-interest legislation with regard to politicians.

The United Conservative Party successfully shut down discussion of this problem after it was revealed Mr. Shandro and his wife Andrea Shandro are part owners of a supplementary health benefits company that sells coverage for services delisted by Mr. Shandro’s ministry, or which the government may delist in future.

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark (Photo: The Star, Creative Commons).

The UCP effectively ended the debate last week by making public a letter from Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler stating no rules were broken by Mr. Shandro. UCP supporters also repeated still-unsubstantiated allegations Ms. Shandro received a death threat or threats as a result of the uproar on social media over her husband’s ties to their business.

Ms. Trussler’s March 20 letter to Legislative Speaker Nathan Cooper stated that the company in which the minister’s wife holds an interest, Vital Partners Inc., “is a partnership between Andrea Shandro and a third party. Ms. Shandro’s interest is held through Shandro Holdings Inc. Minister Shandro is not a director of Shandro Holdings Inc. His shares in the company are held in a blind trust.”

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Furthermore, the letter said, before he was elected, Mr. Shandro rearranged his business affairs to be in compliance with the Conflicts of Interest Act.

Many members of the public remained uncomfortable with Ms. Trussler’s ruling, however, because it was obvious there were potential benefits to Vital Partners Inc., and through it to Shandro Holdings Inc., from decisions Mr. Shandro had made or might make. For many people, in other words, the blind trust did nothing to prevent the appearance of conflict of interest.

CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

They understood that the blind trust arrangements sufficient to meet the requirements of the Conflicts of Interest Act, which no one disputes Mr. Shandro made, are essentially meaningless in this situation because Mr. Shandro knows the business of his family company intimately, understands the nature of the company’s business thoroughly, and is, presumably, in daily communication with the family holding company’s other owner.

Mr. Shandro certainly was last Saturday when he and his partner in life and business marched down the street to the home of their Calgary neighbour, a physician and past UCP supporter whose profession comes under the ministerial responsibility of the health minister, to berate him in public and in front of his family for reposting an uncomplimentary social media meme.

Alberta Speaker Nathan Cooper (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Ordinary people troubled by the Shandro Family’s business arrangement understand that in circumstances like these, Mr. Shandro’s blind trust, while entirely legal and sufficient to overcome the low bar set by the act, is what Joe Clark mockingly called a “Venetian blind trust, which the minister can open or shut, so long as the ethics commissioner agrees.” Former Conservative PM Clark was questioning former Liberal PM Paul Martin’s trust arrangements for the operation of his family steamship company when he made that comment in Parliament in February 2003.

Alberta Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler (Photo: Office of the Ethics Commissioner).

Like Mr. Clark’s observation about Mr. Martin’s business affairs, Mr. Shandro’s blind trust has many of the characteristics of a Venetian blind trust. Mr. Shandro certainly knows how his wife’s company stands to benefit from his decisions, and he presumably speaks regularly enough with his wife to know how the family company and her insurance services company are both doing, whether or not they discuss those businesses in detail.

Moreover, we know from reading the report by CBC journalist Charles Rusnell that Mr. Shandro not only reads his wife’s business emails, he responds to them on his government of Alberta email account!

Lord Chief Justice Hewart famously observed in R v Sussex Justices, ex parte McCarthy, a case that Mr. Shandro must have studied in law school, that “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.

Former Alberta premier, now Opposition Leader, Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In other words, Justice wears a blindfold. She doesn’t stand behind a Venetian blind that repeatedly snaps open and shut, depending on circumstances or mood.

It’s obvious Mr. Shandro is extremely thin skinned. Perhaps the stress of the COVID-19 crisis is getting to him, as it is to many of us.

If so, he needs to remember that his position is an important one, in which it is essential that he demonstrate calm leadership, not childish public tantrums whenever he is accused of self-interest or putting politics ahead of sound policy. If he is not up to that, he needs to be replaced.

Mr. Shandro could follow the example of other politicians of all political stripes who have dealt with similar commentary with more grace, among them Mr. Martin, former Parti Québécois leader Pierre Karl Péladeau, and federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley frequently endured similar commentary because her husband worked for a public sector union.

UCP supporters need to remember this too. When they next publish similar memes about Mr. Morneau’s business dealings, for example, they can expect to have Mr. Shandro’s name thrown back at them. Mr. Shandro is well on his way to becoming a serious liability to his party.

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  1. I have had many dealing with the so called Ethics Commissioner in the past. She is an expert at deflecting Conservative issues.

    1. I agree. Deflection and Denial. Mr S is already is a liability, never mind well on his way to becoming one.

  2. The Minister of Health owns shares in Vital Partners Inc., but places the shares in a blind trust. The Commissioner determines the Conflict of Interest rules are satisfied.

    To this citizen it is reasonable to believe a blind trust means the Minister should be unaware of all company business and emails directed to the company address is company business. Yet the Minister knows about an email alleging a conflict and promptly responds on his government account. The Premier sees no problem and moves on. Just an example of the Alberta Advantage for Martha and Henry to consider (forget?) next election.

    1. This is an example of the “no rules were broken” principle in action. The company whose emails the minister answered is not the company that’s in the blind trust, as I understand it. The company that’s in the blind trust holds the shares of the company whose emails he answered. We don’t know what else is held by his family holding company, of course. It’s possible the only shares it holds are those of his wife’s insurance company. The point though, is that blind trusts for holdings this small with this few players are for all intents and purposes meaningless. DJC

  3. Scrutiny is a big part of what this is about and it is clear Mr. Shando does not want much scrutiny of his family business arrangements, because they do not stand up to it very well. Well like it or not, he is a public official and his spouse has a business that is related to decisions made by the department. This situation actually requires a great deal of scrutiny.

    Being blind is a permanent condition, it is not the same as covering your eyes with your hands and being able to peek through your fingers as you wish, or Venetian blinds that can be opened or closed at will. Mr. Clark understood this and the public understands this, even as Mr. Shandro tries to deny this.

    Blind trusts are really only suitable for portfolio investments that can easily be sold, such as publicly traded stocks and bonds. Otherwise there is not much blindness when the person who knows what they put in the trust is likely still there and they are in close communication or even living with the shareholders or directors of the company. The public actually gets this, while politicians who try to hide behind this as a legal convenience try to pretend they do not.

    I think Mr. Shando has already been found as conflicted in the court of public opinion. All the yelling, threats, attempts to silence and intimidate people will not change this or make this go away.

    1. A minister should not be using the power of his position to threaten and intimidate Alberta residents who do not agree with him. Mr Shandro should resign.

  4. And not forgetting that Shandro’s sister-in-law is connected to his blind trust as well as being an owner in the company.

    Leaky ethics guidelines (not rules; more like guidelines) is the sort of thing that all partisan interests strive for.

    Shandro may not survive this event and will be shuffled out of the Health portfolio and soon as possible. But not now, for gosh sakes.

    There are so many doctors to be berated. The Wolfman has the nurses covered. Btw, the Wolfman has been very silent lately.

  5. The focus on the blind trust and his wife’s company is a mistake, I think. The real issue is that Shandro lacks the emotional maturity to be a member of cabinet in charge of ANY ministry. He crossed a line, and he can’t jump back over it.

  6. The only reason Shandy and Kennochio are in politics is to fill their pockets as quickly as possible. They despise everyone but their wealthy donors/puppet masters. Kennochio only does the right thing if he’s shamed into it by extreme public pressure. I can only hope that the calls for Shandro’s firing continue for as long as it takes even if it is a distraction during the Shandemic.

    Also, why do we have to listen to Kennochio’s blatherings at the chief medical officer’s updates? We get it already – the oil CEOs are only getting one Porsche with their bonus this year and we feel bad for them.

    Kennochio and his gang of grifters are using the cover of the Shandemic to destroy what little is left of democracy.

  7. “Mr. Shandro is well on his way to becoming a serious liability to his party.”

    I was hoping you would write about this, David, so thank you for doing so. I am also really impressed with your memory/research to bring up a comment Joe Clark made in 2003.

    The UCP has to realize that this issue will come up every time they delist a service from Alberta Health Care, as long as it is Tyler Shandro doing the delisting. It will be the gift that keeps on giving!

    I also agree with you that the intent of the blind trust did not work in this case. The idea of the blind trust is that the minister can focus entirely on his portfolio, unaware of how his business interests will be affected by his decisions. When Tyler Shandro responds to an email sent to his wife’s business in less than an hour, he has clearly not turned his back on his business interests.

    In his defense of Minister Shandro, Jason Kenney, (who has also relied on the ‘No Rules Were Broken’ defense) ‘justified’ Shandro’s over the top reaction because his wife has received death threats.* The point that Kenney ignored, however, was that it was NOT Dr. Zaidi who issued the death threats. Using Kenney’s logic it is understandable that I abuse Political Ranger because I am really ticked off with my neighbour.

    *Does this give Mr. Shandro some empathy for what Rachel Notley, Sandra Jansen and Donna Kennedy-Glans have endured?

  8. The question politically discerning Albertans should be asking—the next time the province delists medical services currently provided—would Tyler Shandro’s wife benefit financially by her interest in Vital Partners Inc. and by extension, Mr. Shandro?

    If the answer is yes, there would be an abundance of conflict of interest by virtue of the “family” benefiting financially. It makes no difference if Tyler Shandro pleads the Fifth (yes, I know it’s American) or swears on a stack of evangelical bibles wrapped in goatskin leather that he’s done nothing wrong—he’s benefiting and that’s extremely concerning.

  9. Health minister berating and threatening a doctor during a pandemic? This would never happen if Rachel Notley was in charge. But, hey you voted for this Alberta. Just think we only have 3 more years of this BS – enjoy.

  10. Why did the Ethics Commissioner advise that Mr. Shandro should be cut some slack because he is under a lot of stress right now, or words to that effect? Just the facts, maam.

    Perception of impropriety could be avoided by not having the Health Minister in charge of a portfolio that directly affects his family pocketbook. Perhaps he could be moved to agriculture? I’ve heard that farmers like big city lawyers. It would make as much sense as a lawyer in charge of health, maybe more, as both professions involve some materials in common.

  11. For anyone interested, here’s what the CBC’s Charles Rusnell said on Twitter:

    “To update, I checked with Dr. Zaidi. @shandro did not apologize to him and his family, as @jkenney stated today. He also did not apologize to the two citizens he insulted in emails. Those citizens, to repeat, did not threaten him or his wife.”

    So we have a non-apology by the premier, a non-apology by Tyler Shandro, and gaslighting by both of them.

    This is classic.

  12. I feel like heading over to Shandro’s place and giving him a piece of my mind. Anyone know his address?

  13. Over the last several days, since #Shandrogate blew up, I have noticed the stream of bizarre comments on social-media in support of the minister, his wife, and the complete dismissal of the appearance of impropriety. (Because they’re not rules; they’re more like…guidelines.)

    While I noticed that much of the support came from the usual UCP-trolls (Paid or unpaid?) I also noticed that there were one of two from noted UCP members who were not only supportive of Shandro, but completely understood his reaction to the attacks. One noted UCP personnage, who is very prolific on Twitter, is of the belief that Shandro was perfectly correct and should be applauded for berated a doctor who criticised Shandro. While anyone would chalk this up to a defense from the UCP choir, what followed in the thread was disturbing.

    Apparently, this woman, who was an early activist in the UCP, was a target of threats during a constituency leadership bid, as well as an avalanche of rumours and innuendos regarding her character. She simply dismissed this as just politics. (Of course, where Shandro’s wife is concerned, completely uncalled for because she’s not in public life. Yeah, right!)

    I recall the well-publicized conflict this young UCP activist had and the attacks against her included character assassination. She even admitted to receiving harassing phone calls at her place of work. But again it’s just politics. When asked in a tweet is this sort of behaviour complace in the UCP, the woman did not respond. (I guess criticising the party will get you on the ‘enemies list’, PDQ.)

    The young woman’s comments and willingness to dismiss UCP members’ own attacks on her as just politics sounds like, to me, battered-woman syndrome. I guess she learned her lesson about not knowing her place and she’ll never get out of line again. Reading this it sounded too familiar to me.

    Having been around the conservative-minded for much of my life, I have noticed that any organization centered around that mindset is hyper-masculine — aggressive, boyish, selfish, immature, and a host of other man-child superlatives, including violent. Conservative movements like their men like that, and the women involved in those movements just accept that as just part of being around the boys. It’s like when Rona Ambrose, while speaking before the audience at a CPC event, referred to Justin Trudeau as “Canada’s first woman prime minister” — she was just playing to a crowd whose mindset and temperament she understood. And it was no surprise that this gathering of CPC faithful would want to hear cracks called Justin Trudeau effeminate, girly, weak, unmanly, etc. After all misogyny, thy name is conservative.

  14. Before the population became so docile and apathetic these kinds of things would lead to revolution. Blatant self enrichment as a result of your position. Take to the streets, oh wait we are in lock down and can’t. My thought is there is much more going on behind the scenes, never let a crisis go to waste.

    1. “My thought is there is much more going on behind…”

      I bet you my pension you’re wrong. Oh, wait a minute.

  15. A minister should not be using the power of his position to threaten and intimidate Alberta residents who do not agree with him. Mr Shandro should resign.

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