Bilderberg? Illegal Political Contributions? What??

Is it just me or did things become even less transparent after Alison Redford swept back into power as premier of Alberta?  First we have the Premier’s participation in the “by invitation only” Bilderberg meetings in Virginia.  The Bilderberg is one of the most prestigious and secretive meetings in the world.  Participants from the worlds of finance, politics, business, academia and communications come together to “discuss topics of current concern…in foreign affairs and international economy”.*  The meetings are conducted under a cone of silence—a fact that is even more strange given the participation of the editor-in-chief of The Economist and two Economist reporters who are listed as rapporteurs.  (A “rapporteur” is a person designated by an organization to report on its proceedings—perhaps they take the minutes in invisible ink.)

Redford said she’s attending because it’s the premier’s job to advance Alberta’s interests in different forums around the world.**

I don’t fault Ms Redford for accepting the invitation—I’d go too if only to see whether Bilderberg really is a cabal controlling the financial, economic and political forces of the planet.   However, the Bilderberg website makes it clear that “participants attend Bilderberg in a private and not an official capacity”.

So notwithstanding Ms Redford’s attempt to characterize this as a business trip, I agree with Danielle Smith that Ms Redford should have travelled on her own dime.  And yes, the $19,000 the taxpayers are paying to cover her travel expenses won’t break the bank but the fact the taxpayers are footing the bill in the first place is symptomatic of the way this government blurs the line between governmental activities and political ones.

Which leads me to the growing controversy over improper political contributions.  We started the week with the government refusing to disclose how much money the PCs had received in illegal political contributions.  They claimed their hands were tied because the former Chief Electoral Officer had recommended legislative changes that made both the investigation and its findings, confidential.

This—what shall we call it—misstatement, blew up in the PC’s face when the former Chief Elector Officer denied it.  Then Deputy Premier Lukaszuk said the Electoral Officer could release whatever information he wished.  This was contrary to what the Justice Minister had said the day before.

Instead of making it up on the fly I’d suggest that both the Deputy Minister and the Justice Minister read the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.  It is so tightly drafted (under Ms Redford’s watch as Justice Minister I might add) that it may well require an amendment in order to allow the Electoral Officer to disclose the amounts that were wrongly contributed to the PCs (or any other political party for that matter).  Unfortunately an amendment won’t be possible until the Legislature resumes sitting in the fall.  Meanwhile the gong show continues.

On Friday the story got another boost when the media reported that “indirect contributions” may have flowed from the University of Calgary to the PC party.  The allegation involves a series of emails between U of C in-house counsel and Joe Lougheed, a Tory supporter and the son of the former premier.  Mr Lougheed, a lawyer who was providing government relations services to the U of C at the time, describes the emails as “poorly drafted”.  The U of C says it received “conflicting information” as to whether the donations were improper.  The opposition is in an uproar and the ball is back in the Chief Electoral Officer’s court.

Given that the Chief Electoral Officer has identified 41 cases of questionable donations to date and administrative penalties have been paid or are pending in 19 of those cases the best way to resolve this mess is to follow Brian Mason’s (NDP) advice and call an independent public inquiry into PC fundraising.  Ironically the one thing the Chief Electoral Officer does have the power to do under the existing legislation is to call a public inquiry.  That would be a real example of transparency…will he have the courage to do it?

*Bilderberg Official Website

**Calgary Herald Online May 30, 2012

 

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10 Responses to Bilderberg? Illegal Political Contributions? What??

  1. Jill Browne says:

    Bilderberg is symbolic, though personally I’m not terribly upset about it. I’d go too, for the same reasons as you – I mean, who could resist? While the Bilderberg website apparently says people attend in their personal capacities, I think that’s not entirely Bilderberg’s call. If Premier Redford says she is attending in her capacity as premier, I think there is some room to allow her to make that decision. All Bilderberg’s website statement means, as far as I’m concerned, is that no one at the conference is there as agent for someone else and therefore able to bind that someone else (e.g. Alberta) to any obligations. No, Bilderberg is small potatoes and frankly I think it may be $19K well spent.

    What I think is more worthy of the spotlight is the tobacco lawsuit question. The province has decided to sue the tobacco companies (I have only heard radio reports and didn’t listen for the company names). The allegation is that tobacco company misconduct has cost the province excess health care costs. Apparently we are seeking $10 billion and the suit preparation started two years ago. (Globe & Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/alberta-seeking-10-billion-in-lawsuit-against-tobacco-companies/article2448008/)

    The lack of transparency allegation comes from the revelation that one of the partners in the law firm representing the province in this matter is Robert Hawkes, who is Alison Redford’s former husband (which in and of itself wouldn’t necessarily imply a cosy relationship) and the leader of her transition team (which does raise questions about Redford’s impartiality). The Edmonton Journal is pretty hot on this one: http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2012/06/01/firms-hired-for-10b-suit-have-strong-personal-financial-ties-to-redford-govt/

    I wonder if further digging would show what the legal services procurement process was. It’s hard to find a law firm in Alberta without PC connections. The question is what other merits and suitability for the job were displayed by the chosen firm (in addition to PC connections, which of course should not be a selection criterion), and whether other qualified firms, of any political persuasion, had a fair chance to bid for the work.

    So, I’m with you on the point that the U of C’s donation and Joe Lougheed’s involvement need a clear explanation, we disagree on the severity of Bilderberg, and I want to throw tobacco onto the fire, at least until the smoke clears on that one.

  2. Jill, you’ve stoked the fire by adding the tobacco lawsuit “log” to the discussion, but I can’t resist making one more comment on the Bilderberg issue. Ms Redford said she felt “incredibly privileged” to have been invited to attend. No kidding! The Bilderberg official website says participants are selected based on their experience, knowledge, standing and contribution to the selected agenda. Yes, Ms Redford is intelligent, but she’s only just developing her experience, knowledge and standing on the global stage. So that leaves her ability to contribute to “the selected agenda”.
    One wonders why she would be at a meeting with the chief strategist for Microsoft and the CEO of Palantir which offers “platforms for integrating, visualizing, and analyzing the world’s information”. But it’s more likely that Ms Redford was there to be introduced to luminaries such as the Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell and the CEO of Dow. This makes sense given that Ms Redford is sitting on top of the second, maybe third, largest bitumen deposit on the planet. Well, no need to speculate…Ms Redford promised to fill us in on what transpired in Virginia when she returned. I’m all ears!

  3. Judy Johnson says:

    Sorry to get slightly off topic, (by the way Susan, I find your blog to be extremely informative thank you for writing it), the wife of the Premier’s Chief of Staff also works for this same law firm. How can this not be a conflict of interest? I will be writing to the Ethics Commissioner asking the same question.

    • Judy, thank you for your kind comments! I too am troubled by the province’s decision to award the tobacco litigation to a law firm that is connected to the Premier’s office (at a very high level it would seem). Not only does this raise the question of political patronage, it also makes me question whether this is the best use of taxpayer dollars. Six other Canadian provinces are being represented by a legal consortium led by Bennett Jones (a highly respected national firm), but for some reason Alberta decided to go with a “boutique” law firm specializing in litigation. It’s usually cheaper in class actions to share the cost of the litigation with other litigants. But the decision to go it alone means that instead of splitting the legal bill (in this case disbursements since it’s on a contingency fee basis) with 6 other provinces, Alberta will get to pay the whole thing. The only way this makes any sense is if the “boutique” law firm is 6 times more efficient than the big national law firm. Makes you wonder doesn’t it.
      I hope to see you back here soon!

  4. Carlos Beca says:

    Interesting comments from Susan and Jill about our unique premier. On the one hand she wants to be of the so called ‘people’ and then she goes to Bilderberg meetings possibly to be able to have that on her resume. After all, Alison is young and I am sure that she has her eyes on big fat incomes after all this circus is finished. I have heard Alison Redford in a couple of interviews and there is no doubt that she is a smart person capable of running this province, but I do doubt very much that her intentions are real and honest.

    As far as the Bilderberg Group, Alison Redford as to remember that the minute we pay for this junket, then this meeting becomes of public interest and so as a citizen I want to know what she went to do there and what was accomplished or discussed. If that is secret then Alison Redford or anyone else can go privately and pay for her own way. This atittude of being above everyone else is disgusting and to me she should pay that money back. As a citizen a Premier is a person that runs the best way possible the province and defends the interests of its citizens. It is not at all like she suggests ‘To travel the country and the world talking about our issues’ – who cares about our issues anyway? This is just the excuse today’s polticians use for junkets all over the place in expensive hotels and no results whatsoever. Alison Redford should be in the province, manage it and try to resolve serious issues that have been dragging for years, like Health Care. Just a final note on this Bilderberg meeting. It is hard to believe that this meeting is actually more important than meeting the leader of the Opposition of her own country. Let us be honest here – she went to the Bilderberg meeting because she just could not pass the opportunity to meet all the so called elites of this planet that secretly decide who gets what. Ms. Redford if anything, as a true democrat, should avoid this kind of idiotic cabalas that carry a lot of bad reputation and do nothing for Albertans. If anything they maybe deciding who takes the oil for the cheapest royalty. I totally disagree with Jill that Bilderberg is nothing to worry about.

    As far as the donations, that is just more of the same. The PC party has never respected the rules and it is not going now. In the elections, they showed for the first time some humility because defeat was apparently just around the corner, but as soon as the results favored them the old arrogancy is alive and well.

    As far as the tobbaco issue, I am not sure what this is all about. For decades doctors told governments that smoking and the pernicious influence of tobacco companies on youth to get them early in life was against our interests as citizens. What did governments do? Nothing as usual. Now they want to go after them. Another example of twisted mind sets as far as I am concerned. Having her ex-husband part of the millions that are going to flow from this is just pure coincidence I am sure :).

    I personally have no expectations at all from this government. I believe it will be another lost 4 years of junkets all over the world trying to ‘talk about our issues’ just so that the citizens of this province do not even notice that billions of dollars are flowing out of this province as we basically have no royalties and we are even now on the way to lose control of its ownership. Under the excuse of economic development, conservatives at the federal and provincial levels are selling our natural resources as fast as possible for peanuts. With this kind of economic development, the only reason we have the standards of living we have is because there are only 30 million of us in this immense rich land, but limits are just around the corner and then what?

  5. You make a lot of good points Carlos. Let me pick up on your comment that given that Ms Redford attended the Bilderberg meetings in her official capacity we have the right to expect that she will share the results of the meeting with the citizens of Alberta. This is certainly my expectation and the expectation of the opposition parties who questioned her about this trip. Ms Redford agreed to report back to the opposition and the people of Alberta upon her return, however we’ve heard nothing to date. (Somehow I am not surprised.)
    Before we leave the topic of the Bilderberg let me pass on a comment from Conrad Black. In his book A Matter of Principle he comments that while the Bilderberg is a great way to make important connections, he dismissed the value of the meetings because in his view “the group-think was almost always wrong” (p 200). This is creates an interesting paradox…if they get it wrong they’re making things worse, but at the same time if they get it wrong this means that they’re not anywhere near as influential as they think they are.
    What a bizarre world we live it! Thanks for sharing your perspective Carlos.

  6. Rose Marie MacKenzie-Kirkwood says:

    I’m sorry this may be way off topic but as an “moderate income taxpayer” I lost it at $19,000 to attend a secret meeting in Virginia. My husband and I had to save for 2 years to take a two week holiday to Italy and it cost us under $10,000 and we did not slum it. Where the heck does accountability come into play when the government is acting on “my” behalf? Why do they always have the option to hide behind the law and not be accountable for funds they spend in my name?

    I support charities because I know they need funding to keep up with research and services. I know that a large portion of that money goes to administration BUT still it is money being spent where it should be and all of us donating and volunteering keep doing so because we know they are accountable to someone.

    The only thing, right now, that makes me feel better is during my trip to Italy I found out that they actually have 52 different political parties and as our tour director told us, “it is near to impossible to come to any sort of headway when you can’t get 52 different parties, with 52 different issues to resolve one simple problem and that is why Italy is in the mess it is in.”

    Once again, I am sorry to have diverted off topic but seriously $19,000 for a trip to Virginia for a meeting as a “guest” to me is money not spent with my “best interests at heart” but then I can honestly admit that if someone was paying my way I would have gone as well.

  7. Rose Marie, I couldn’t agree with you more on the $19,000 issue. I had no quibble with Ms Redford attending in her personal capacity and at her own expense, but if I’m paying for this trip I want to hear all about it–who did she meet with, what did they talk about, what are the next steps? Given the secretive nature of the Bilderberg it’s highly unlikely any of us will hear anything more about this.
    Your example of politics in Italy should be a lesson to Albertans. We’ve managed to divide the centre/left into yet another faction with the creation of the Alberta Party. I worry that we’ve become so watered down that none of these parties will ever make it into the opposition let alone into power. But that’s the topic of an entirely different blog!
    Thank you for your comments…it’s great to have you back.

  8. GoinFawr says:

    So, here we are weeks later and I am still unable to locate any releases from Ms.Redford’s office disclosing what she encountered at the B meeting while allegedly “advancing Alberta’s interests”, not even the usual post game ‘hockey talk’. Will wonders never cease?

    But thanks for trying anyway susan; appreciate it.

    • My 85 year old father who fled Hungary when the Communists took over says nothing good ever comes of meetings held in secret. And that’s the problem isn’t it…we’re not expecting a detailed report of what happened at Bilderberg. However, the taxpayers funded this trip. As such, a short press release saying that Ms Redford had productive meetings with Mr X and Ms Y and they’re all looking forward to working together in the future on this issue or that, would be very welcome. Lacking this transparency we’re left with my father’s adage and it makes us all very uncomfortable.

      Thank you for your comments GoinFawr. They demonstrate that the B meetings continue to live up to their reputation of secrecy.

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