Alberta’s ethics commissioner says she did a thorough investigation into Tyler Shandro’s business interests soon after he was first elected as a member of the legislature.
Marguerite Trussler testified Tuesday at a Law Society of Alberta hearing looking into complaints that Shandro committed professional misconduct on three separate occasions when he was health minister.
She said Shandro, a Calgary lawyer who was defeated in last month’s provincial election, came to her office within weeks of being elected in 2019 to tell her about his family business, which included a holding company that has a 50 per cent interest in Vital Partners, his wife’s health insurance agency.
“We had a very thorough discussion,” she told the online hearing Tuesday. “After he left, we did a very thorough investigation.
“This was a company that provided group packages to benefits for things that aren’t covered by the Canada Health Act.”
Trussler said she told Shandro that he must resign as a director in the company, as required under the Conflict of Interest Act, and asked him to put his shares into a blind trust while health minister.
In March 2020, she said her office received about 35 emails in one weekend that raised ethical concerns about Shandro as the provincial government had decided to change coverage for seniors under Alberta Blue Cross.
Trussler, a lawyer and former judge, said she reviewed the matter again to make sure there was no change in Shandro’s status and determined he was still not in a conflict of interest with his wife’s company.
“There was no conflict because they didn’t sell individual packages to the people who would have been cut off,” she told the hearing.
“There was nothing to investigate at this stage. There was nothing that raised any red flags.”
Shandro previously told the hearing that there was an escalation of threats against him and his wife beginning in December 2019 through to March 2020. The United Conservative Party government at the time was embroiled in rocky negotiations with health-care unions and the Alberta Medical Association.
Shandro said he and his wife, Andrea, received between 900 and 1,000 threats in that period.
Andrea Shandro also testified Tuesday and explained what her company does and what she knew about the review by the ethics commissioner. She broke down in tears while talking about how those threats affected her and her family.
“It was things like, ‘Die, die, die,’” she said. “Terrible things. ‘I hope you and your family all get COVID and you die.’”
She said one person told her to watch her back because they knew where her office was located. Shandro said her husband was working 18 hours a day in Edmonton at the time.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what to do.”
She said she talked to legislature security, which was also concerned, and they made Calgary police aware of the threats.
On March 21, 2020, she said she saw a meme on social media criticizing her husband that said: “So every Albertan that I can kick off health care is another client we can sign up for Vital Partners. We’re going to be RICH.”
When her husband looked at the post, she said he recognized its author as a neighbour and told her he was going over to talk to him.
Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, a Calgary doctor, previously testified that he went outside his home to meet Shandro and described the minister as being highly upset as he demanded the doctor immediately remove the post because his family was being subjected to death threats.
“I see Shandro and his wife standing at the sidewalk. He was crying. He was emotionally charged. His wife was holding him,” Zaidi said in January.
Zaidi said he deleted the post and felt that Shandro was visiting in his capacity with the United Conservative Party government and not as a private citizen.
Andrea Shandro told the hearing that she followed her husband to Zaidi’s house and she was crying and yelling but her husband was not.
She said they got security after their family was mobbed at a Canada Day celebration.
Neil Lettis, a superintendent with the executive protection unit with the Alberta Sheriffs, confirmed some of those details in his testimony later Tuesday.
The hearing was scheduled to continue Wednesday with final arguments from lawyers for Shandro and the law society.