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NDP accuses Smith government of running $700K 'gravy train' for friends and allies

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and NDP Leader Rachel Notley in the Alberta Legislature on November 21, 2023. (Source: Alberta Legislature) Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and NDP Leader Rachel Notley in the Alberta Legislature on November 21, 2023. (Source: Alberta Legislature)
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Alberta's Opposition NDP attempted to skewer the government Tuesday over more than $700,000 worth of sole-source contracts paid to political allies of Danielle Smith.

But the premier defended the expenditures and the process that saw them paid out, insisting all ethics rules were followed in hiring the "very best" people for the jobs.

"The public purse is not this premier's personal, private, political loot bag. Why is it so hard for her to understand that?" NDP leader Rachel Notley asked in question period.

"The member opposite well knows that there are rules regarding sole-source contracting and we have followed every single rule in choosing people who were the very best to give us the advice that we needed," Smith responded.

The controversial contracts include $253,000 paid to former Reform Party leader Preston Manning.

He was hired in January to lead a panel review into the province's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The final report was delivered last week.

Manning is well-known as a conservative advisor and endorsed Danielle Smith for premier in 2012.

"If the Premier was so sure that these were the best choices, why not have an open competition?" said Samir Kayande, the NDP's finance critic.

"The reason is simple, it’s a return to the gravy train and the same sort of entitlement and cronyism that Albertans rejected with the PCs."

The NDP also criticized $175,000 in contracts awarded to Alberta Counsel, a legal and lobbying group run by former Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw.

The Opposition pointed out that Matthew Altheim, Smith’s leadership campaign manager, has received $142,500 in sole-sourced contracts.

And a former president of the Wildrose, David Yager, has received $130,000 in contracts, all of which Notley said shows Smith is "looking past the most basic of ethical principles."

"Yager was awarded a sole-source contract for $70,000 to review the AER. The supposed reason is that in a province full of energy experts he is the only person qualified to review the AER," Kathleen Ganley, the NDP's critic for energy and climate, said in a press release.

In the legislature, Smith fired back at the NDP, saying Notley takes her marching orders from Ottawa and union bosses.

The premier insisted that if the NDP had any proof of wrongdoing over the contracts, they would have reported the cases to the province's ethics commissioner.

"We have followed all of the rules related to our contracting, we will continue to follow all of the rules," she said in the legislature before defending the Manning contract.

"We know that important work needed to be done to prepare us for a future pandemic, we hired the best person for the job."

CTV News Edmonton asked Smith's office why the contracts were awarded without open competitions first being held but a spokesperson would only repeat her statement that all proper procedures were followed.

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