Alberta Politics Opinion

“NO CONFLICT” says Alberta Justice Minister

When the Kenney government dropped Bill 22 on the table last week, some were surprised they decided to relieve the Election Commissioner who has dogged the Party over their fraud scandals. Others were only surprised the government waited so long. 

Bill 22 effectively fires the Elections Commissioner, Lorne Gibson, and moves all current investigations back under the office of Elections Alberta. The UCP has said there’s nothing untoward about streamlining operations. The contract for Alberta’s Election Commissioner, Glen Resler, is up for renewal in April of next year. 

The interesting thing about Bill 22 was the timing. Premier Jason Kenney got “the hell out of dodge” as Rob Breakenridge put it, while the Bill was being debated. Alberta’s Ethics Commissioner weighed in by Thursday and suggested that any MLAs who are currently under investigation by either the Elections Commissioner or the R.C.M.P. should refrain from debating or voting on the Bill. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense why the Bill was pushed through so quickly and passed before the Premier returned. 

And speaking of the R.C.M.P., there is also that cloud hanging over the current representatives of the Government of Alberta due to an ongoing investigation into the 2017 leadership race from which allegations of voter fraud surfaced. Calgary East MLA Peter Singh, Minister of Justice Doug Schweitzer, one of the original complainants, Minister of Tourism and Culture, and Status of Women Leela Aheer, and others have all been interviewed by the R.C.M.P. since taking office

After heated debate in May surrounding Schweitzer and Kenney’s influence on the Department of Justice and Solicitor General, the Crown appointed an outside prosecutor two months later.  

Earlier this month, Kenney announced his latest panel, the Fair Deal Panel which will consider whether to replace the R.C.M.P. with a provincial police force that is accountable to the provincial government. Which sounds better if Albertans didn’t have to worry about the government enacting laws to retroactively decriminalize its own actions…

The piece de resistance was served up Tuesday when the CBC released a report about how a tip led them to a court hearing that wasn’t on the docket. Inside, a Government of Alberta lawyer was laying out an argument to postpone a case that challenges fines levied by the aforementioned, now ousted, Elections Commissioner. 

The case, brought by the Canadian Taxpayer Federation “and others”, is challenging fines levied against them for failing to register as a third party advertiser with Elections Alberta. 

The argument the Government of Alberta lawyer was putting forward was regarding a potential change coming to Alberta’s Elections laws that could make the case(s) moot. In other words, changes that would be applied retroactively to make previous infractions no longer infractions.

CBC reached out to Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer’s office for comment and received a reply that they would not comment on hypothetical legislative changes. 

Yet, they sent a lawyer to argue that “hypothetical” changes to legislation may be enacted and based on those hypothetical changes, the Justice should postpone a legal challenge because said hypothetical changes could make the current lawsuits unnecessary. The postponement, by the way, was denied.

After CBC broke the news, Schweitzer confirmed to Global that his government was indeed looking at reform to the elections finance act. The Minister also said he felt ‘some groups were under immense scrutiny’. If you can’t count on someone to enforce the laws by actually scrutinizing whether people break them, what is the point of having laws? The UCP government must agree. 

In less than one month, they’ve eliminated the Elections Commissioner, announced they will look into eliminating the need for R.C.M.P., and have now admitted they’re looking at retroactively changing laws that put “some groups… under immense scrutiny”.  

Additionally, Alberta Elections has its own rules: they don’t name names. In a Western Standard release only two days ago, it was noted Premier Kenney’s former campaign manager Alan Hallman had been fined $1,500 by Elections Alberta. The Western Standard received their information not from a public disclosure, but from court documents obtained after Hallman’s appeal was dismissed.

Even if investigations that were previously under the purview of the Elections Commissioner’s office continue under the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Alberta, information regarding the findings is likely to be scant in the future – unless Albertans demand transparency

Conflict or no conflict, one thing seems to be certain: the United Conservative Party doesn’t want Albertans to know.

This post contains fact and opinion.

Deirdre is a reporter, pundit, podcaster, and political sociologist living in rural Southern Alberta.   

contact: dmaclean@countersign.ca, hello@politicalrnd.ca

Twitter: @Mitchell_AB for all the commentary; @thisweekinAB for posts; @politicalRnD to guess “who tweeted that”?

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