Alberta’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The United Conservative Party (UCP), Alberta’s government, brought in an omnibus bill that among other things restructured the oversight of elections.  At the moment, the Chief Electoral Officer oversees the administration of the elections.  The Elections Commissioner is the watchdog who enforces the rules in the interests of fairness.  He received about 500 complaints this year. But the UCP legislation wiped out this watchdog’s job and re-assigned his staff and responsibilities to the Chief Electoral Officer.

The UCP’s rationale is this will save about $200,000 annually.  Further, they said no other provinces have Elections Commissioners. (although the Federal Government does).  

Lorne Gibson Alberta Elections Commissioner

But the problem is that the Commissioner, along with the RCMP, is in the midst of investigating the UCP for violation of its leadership election of 2017.  

According to a lengthy Maclean’s magazine article, Jason Kenney’s campaign team helped a “stalking horse” candidate named Jeff Callaway enter the UCP leadership campaign to undermine Kenney’s main rival during the 2017 contest.   Various grubby details about this arrangement and election irregularities have seeped out.  Apparently, the Kenney people helped with speechwriting, video production, campaign strategy and media relations for this candidate.

But the ‘stalking horse’ candidate had funding problems.  So, irregular funding solutions were implemented.  These solutions violated campaign finance rules.  Some large cash amounts were donated, violating allowable contribution limits. Some cash was distributed to others so they could make donations in their name.  

Then! The Election Commissioner following the money – caught on to this – and started handing out fines.  Over $200,000 in fines to 15 people so far.  Callaway has taken the matter to court proclaiming his innocence.  Kenney and his campaign team have adopted the ‘ I know nothing’ defence.

The watchdog is still sniffing around investigating the participants in this thing.  The RCMP are also looking into this funny business to see if something criminal occurred.

Well! when the UCP announced the firing of the watchdog as a “cost-saving measure” Albertans’ collective bullshit detectors lit up!  The UCP set a new speed record of ramming the legislation through in three days by limiting the amount of time the opposition could debate the entire omnibus bill.  The Ethics Commissioner wrote a letter advising that anyone that was part of an ongoing investigation should not vote.  Meanwhile, Premier Kenney was in “witness protection” on a business trip to Texas.

The UCP have not covered themselves in glory this week.  And Alberta’s reputation takes a hit:

  • The fig leaf rationale of saving money doesn’t hold water.
  • Rushing major legislation items through, bundled with firing an Officer of the Legislature without genuine discussion is disgraceful.
  • Weakening election oversight is a bad idea given recent history and the continue threats that social media abuse present.
  • Ignoring the advice of the Ethics Commissioner is unwise.
  • When the Premier leaves the province until its over, isn’t a good look either. 
  • This gives the UCP the appearance that they have something to hide.  Alberta is very much in the national lens these days, and this stunt gives a talking point to those that would deflect Alberta’s concerns.
  • The move gives rise to the accusations that the UCP are bullies and feel as entitled as the “ToryLand” previous Progressive Conservative government.

All in all, November 21 was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day for Alberta.