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'It was a mistake': UCP Leader Smith acknowledges ethics violation but doesn't apologize

After the Alberta leaders debate Thursday night, a reporter asked Danielle Smith if she's sorry for breaking the province's Conflicts of Interest Act.

The UCP leader did not offer an apology.

"It was a mistake. I'm not a perfect person. People know that. I thought I was going about it the right way, the ethics commissioner said I did it the wrong way," Smith responded.

Smith had just gone face to face with NDP Leader Rachel Notley live on TV, 11 days ahead of a provincial vote.

The show aired just hours after ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler publicly announced Smith broke ethics rules during a Jan. 6 conversation she had with her justice minister regarding a COVID-19 case against a controversial Calgary pastor.

"Speaking to an Attorney General about a specific ongoing criminal case, in the way that Premier Smith did on the call with Minister Shandro, is not acceptable," Trussler wrote.

"In the whole scheme of things, it is a threat to democracy to interfere with the administration of justice."

Notley pounced on this in the debate, pointing out during her opening remarks that Smith broke the law.

"I have been in office since 2008. I have never actually breached the conflict of interest legislation. Ms. Smith cannot say the same," Notley said later on.

Trussler also determined that it was "improper" for Smith to discuss an ongoing criminal case with the accused, Artur Pawlowski. He was later found guilty of mischief.

There was no evidence found, however, that Smith or anyone in her office contacted Crown prosecutors directly about the case, Trussler said.

This prompted Smith to declare that the CBC and NDP lied about that point.

Smith was heard, on a video leaked in March, telling Pawlowski she was talking about his case "almost weekly" with "our prosecutors."

Smith later stated she used "imprecise language" in that recording and insists she only spoke to justice officials, not prosecutors directly.

"I have always said that I was going to seek amnesty. I have always said that my only contact was through the justice minister and through my justice officials, that's what I did," Smith said Thursday.

"The ethics commissioner said that I did that incorrectly and I look forward to her giving me some advice on how to do it correctly."

Smith also repeated a threat to "pursue civil litigation" against the NDP and CBC.

Trussler did not recommend sanctions against Smith Thursday but said she reserves the right to do so in the future.

"I think that the report is very discouraging. It's very discouraging to have it confirmed that the premier [at the time of the call] broke the law and the premier's actions are undermining of democracy," said Lorian Hardcastle, an associate law professor at the University of Calgary.

Hardcastle believes Smith's initial statement about Trussler's report was "problematic" and "shows a lack of accountability."

"She accuses CBC of lying, which the report does not find. The report found that CBC made a statement about talking to Crown prosecutors and that that statement could not be proven, but it didn't find that CBC lied," she said.

As for the debate, Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams said it may not have much of an effect on voters.

Williams believes that partly because Notley didn't effectively highlight Smith's mistakes to undecided voters.

"I don't think there was a clear winner. I don’t think there were any knockout blows landed," she told CTV News Calgary.

"It's not going to change the momentum of the campaign. It's not, by itself, going to have a material impact."

Advance polls open to Alberta voters on Tuesday.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson and CTV News Calgary's Timm Bruch Top Stories

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