Government distances itself from $900K contract between public inquiry commissioner and his son’s law firm

By Catherine Griwkowsky November 15, 2019

NDP Democracy and Ethics critic Heather Sweet said Alberta’s ethics commissioner should investigate whether the man leading a provincial inquiry broke ethics rules when he awarded a $905,000 contract to a Calgary law firm where his son is a partner.
Sweet said Thursday that she will ask Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler to examine the potential conflict of interest faced by Steve Allan, who was appointed to lead a public inquiry into alleged foreign-funded attacks on Alberta’s oil and gas sector in July.
Within days of his appointment, Allan had authorized a $905,000 sole-source contract with international firm Dentons to provide legal advice during the inquiry. 
Allan’s son, corporate lawyer Toby Allan, is a partner at Dentons’ Calgary office, a familial connection Sweet says constitutes a conflict of interest.
“This is a direct relationship with the head of the inquiry and his son,” Sweet said, adding that even if Toby isn’t directly related to the case, he stands to personally benefit as a partner. 
The inquiry was instigated by Energy Minister Sonya Savage and is funded by her ministry, but Savage’s office distanced itself from the deal.
Savage’s spokesperson provided AB Today with a copy of the contract Allan signed when he took over as commissioner of the public inquiry, and highlighted a clause outlining the commissioner’s “sole discretion” when it comes to procuring resources and services.
According to the contract, Minister Savage only serves as an “administrator” when it comes to the commissioner’s expenses, part of an effort to ensure Allan’s independence. 
“The Minister’s role under these contracts shall be limited to payment only,” the contract states. 
However, the contract with Dentons was signed off on by the Justice Ministry, headed up by Minister Doug Schweitzer. Schweitzer previously worked as a lawyer at the firm’s Calgary office but severed ties ahead of the spring election campaign.
Schweitzer’s spokesperson said the lucrative deal was signed off on by bureaucrats and the minister had nothing to do with it. 
“Dentons is a large global law firm with approximately ten thousand lawyers and billions of dollars in annual revenue,” Schweitzer’s press secretary said in an emailed statement. “It is our understanding that Mr. Toby Allan, a lawyer in a different department, is not involved in any way with work being done for the Inquiry.”
“Large law firms are regularly required to construct ethical walls between clients in order to ensure no conflicts of interest,” he added.
The inquiry, launched on July 4, has a total budget of $2.5 million. The final report from the inquiry is due back to government on July 2, 2020.
Allan will earn a base salary of $291,876 for his one-year term as commissioner, according to his contract. Should he be required to participate in legal proceedings after his term is complete, Allan will also be paid up to $800 per day to provide testimony. Ecojustice has already threatened a legal challenge against the inquiry, calling its mandate to investigate environmentalists unconstitutional.
The Edmonton Journal reports $108,123 of the inquiry’s budget has been allocated to a part-time executive director and another $905,000 is being used to contract out forensic accountants and other experts. 
Allan told the Globe and Mail his son has no role in the contract, nor will he work on the file. He added he also hired another law firm, Rose LLP to provide legal work for the inquiry.