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Alberta Politics

Firing the Election Commissioner is bad for democracy and bad for Alberta

In an unusual but not unheard of piece of political theatre, New Democratic Party leader Rachel Notley was removed from the Legislative Assembly today when she refused to apologize for accusing the UCP government of obstruction of justice as it dissolves the independent Office of the Election Commissioner.

Rachel Notley Alberta Premier NDP
Rachel Notley (Source: Facebook)

Notley knew what she was doing, and did not take it lightly, as she was willing to be thrown out of the Assembly for a day in order to make her point. This is the first time in recent memory that a leader of the official opposition has been removed from the Assembly.

Meanwhile, Premier Jason Kenney was on a plane to Texas safely avoiding controversy when his United Conservative Party government introduced the omnibus bill.

Bill 22: Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprise Act, a 174-page omnibus bill, is packed with legislative changes, including major changes to Alberta’s public sector pension plans, cuts to historical and sports groups, and dissolves the Office of the Election Commissioner. That last move in effect fires Commissioner Lorne Gibson and likely shuts down his years-long investigation into the UCP’s 2017 leadership campaign that has already led to more than $200,000 in fines.

The Election Commissioner’s investigation is related to illegal or irregular donations to the so-called Kamakaze campaign of Jeff Callaway, the former Wildrose Party president whose brief run for the UCP leadership is considered to have been a stalking-horse for front-runner Kenney. The RCMP are conducting a separate on-going investigation into the UCP leadership campaign.

Jason Kenney Alberta Politics
Jason Kenney (Source: Daveberta.ca)

Kenney’s campaign closely collaborated with Callaway’s campaign, and Matt Wolf, now the Premier’s Executive Director of Issues Management, played an intimate role. But that’s not the shady backroom business that is being investigated by the Commissioner or the RCMP.

The Office of the Election Commissioner was created in 2017 because it was determined that the Chief Elections Officer did not have the resources or political independence to launch thorough investigations into violations of Alberta’s election finance laws.

Wildrose MLAs argued against the creation of his office and UCP supporters have both despised and dismissed Gibson’s investigations, but it is the timing and brazenness of the firing that was shocking.

Before it was tabled for First Reading in the Assembly, Government House Leader Jason Nixon moved to fast-track Bill 22 by severely limiting debate to one hour at each stage in the Legislative process.

Finance Minister Travis Toews has framed dissolving the Office of the Election Commissioner, with its $1 million annual budget, as a money saving decision. But at the same time, the UCP government is spending $2.5 million on a public inquiry to intimidate its political opponents and is providing a $30 million public relations subsidy to the oil and gas industry through the creation of Canadian Energy Centre Ltd.

The UCP are changing the rules because people involved in the party broke the rules and were starting to get caught. Kenney knew that firing the Election Commissioner would be unpopular, but he is clearly willing to spend significant political capital to end the investigations into the Kamikaze campaign. It is a cynical move that is bad for democracy and bad for Alberta.

Notley asks LG to not give Royal Assent to Bill 22

Lois Mitchell
Lois Mitchell (Source: LG website)

Notley has asked Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell to not sign Bill 22 when it passes third reading.

It is clear that the best interests of Albertans would be served by allowing the Office of the Election Commissioner to continue its investigations into violations of Alberta’s elections laws, an unlikely outcome if Bill 22 passes, but it is both a serious request and a risky and potentially ineffective political move to ask the Lieutenant Governor to intervene (as she is likely to decline, or worse, simply not respond to the request). 

That said, the Lieutenant Governor does have a power known as reservation, which has rarely been exercised over Canadian history, and probably for good reason. The powers exist in Section 55 of the Constitution Act, and explained plainly, it means the Lieutenant Governor may adopt one of three courses of action in regard to any legislation passed by the Assembly: they may assent, they may “withhold” assent, or they may reserve their assent for “the Signification of the Queen’s Pleasure.”.

I am aware of two examples in recent history in which a Lieutenant Governor opted to withhold Royal Assent to a bill passed by a provincial legislature.

John C Bowen Alberta Lieutenant Governor
John C. Bowen

In 1937, Lieutenant Governor John Bowen refused to give Royal Assent to three bills passed by Premier William Aberhart’s Social Credit government, including the Accurate News and Information Act, which would have forced newspapers to hand over the names and addresses of their sources to the government, and to print government rebuttals to stories the provincial cabinet objected to. The unconstitutionality of the three bills was later confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 1961, Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Frank Bastedo opted to withhold Royal Assent for a mineral rights bill, which was later approved through an order-in-council passed by the federal cabinet in Ottawa.

There have been two recent cases in Alberta’s history where Lieutenant Governor’s have publicly mused about withholding assent.

Ralph Steinhauer Alberta Lieutenant Governor
Ralph Steinhauer (Source: Alberta Lieutenant Governor on Flickr)

In 1977, Lieutenant Governor Ralph Steinhauer, the first person of Aboriginal heritage to be appointed to the post, considered withholding Royal Assent and publicly spoke against Bill 29:The Land Titles Amendment Act.

The bill introduced by Premier Peter Lougheed’s PC government was designed to prevent Aboriginal land claims in the northern Alberta, including the oilsands producing areas.

And in 2000, Lieutenant Governor Lois Hole publicly suggested she might have a long talk with Premier Ralph Klein before granting Royal Assent to Bill 11, a controversial health care bill.

And in one of the most odd-ball political plays including the  Lieutenant Governor: the Kudatah. Opponents of Notley’s NDP government collected signatures for a petition to present to the Lieutenant Governor to hold a a plebiscite on the carbon tax and Farm safety laws or else they would enact a secret clause in the Elections Act to overturn the results of the May 2015 election (or something like that). With everything else that is going on lately, I don’t think Albertans need or want a repeat of that.

12 replies on “Firing the Election Commissioner is bad for democracy and bad for Alberta”

Mr. Kenney may have the ability to try remove the Elections Commissioner but he can not get rid of the official opposition or silence it. In any event, the Lieutenant Governor can certainly do what she thinks is best. I doubt she will reply publicly, but if she conveys her concerns privately to Kenney, he would probably have no option but to relent. He would likely deny any such conversation ever happened and try to portray it as instead as his response to listening to concerns and making some changes.

Of course the Feds have some power here to. After all the Conservative talk of Federal scandals it might provide the perfect opportunity for Trudeau to somehow hoist Kenney on his own petard and remind him who really is the boss.

Firing the person investigating your own party’s breaking of elections financing rules. If that isn’t a conflict of interest, what is? It is therefore an abuse of power.

I am wondering why saying someone is “misleading the house” is not allowed in the legislature?

This seems like a ridiculous rule, since it actually allows someone to mislead the house.

Misleading the house and removing them only applies to anyone who isn’t UCP. It’s okay for UCP to mislead the house because their personal God will forgive all their sins.

It’s undeniably obvious that the UCP are self entitled crooks, who feel that they are above the law, and feel that they should be able to get away with anything, no matter how unethical or illegal it is. They think they can interfere with the judiciary process, and everything will be okay for them. Jason Kenney clearly cheated to become premier of Alberta. The antics of the UCP are clearly what we see in countries where dictatorships are in power. The UCP have done absolutely nothing of benefit for Alberta. Their corporate tax cuts have not given Albertans any jobs, but have lost the province of Alberta around $4.7 billion. Besides that, there has been one very costly mistake after another, with the UCP, exceeding $13 billion, (including the loss from the aforementioned tax cuts). Anyone who tries to defend this is very foolish. Jason Kenney has a history of doing unethical things. Remember the robocalls scandal in the CPC? Who masterminded that? Why, Jason Kenney! So, why else would Jason Kenney want to replace the R.C.M.P, with a provincial police force? Would it have something to do with him being investigated by the R.C.M.P for election related crimes? Most likely. Regarding the UCP wanting to create an Alberta pension plan, please think twice about this. Why? The Heritage Savings Trust Fund that Peter Lougheed created, was virtually depleted by the Alberta PC governments who came after him. Next, the Alberta PCs were involved with the Principle Trust scandal. People never saw their life savings and investments ever again. The CPC were responsible for making people’s life savings go bye bye in a flash, with the $35 billion income trust scandal. Jason Kenney was in the CPC when that happened. It’s apparent that most Albertans did not learn their lesson on how fiscally careless, undemocratic and unethical the Alberta PCs were, after Peter Lougheed left office. It’s being seen again with the UCP. Shame on any Albertan who thinks this is okay. What happens here for scandals is far worse than anywhere else in Canada. It’s going to be interesting to see how media outlets, like Postmedia, try and cover this up. It’s also going to be equally interesting to see how the supporters of the UCP try to cover this up. The UCP are an ugly nightmare for Alberta.

“The Unholy Cabal of Faux Libertarians and Self Dealing Theocratic Demagogues” For Dummies. That’s what we have. That is our reality now. What we do? Anybody’s guess. Judging by the long arc of observable outcomes? I’d say, maybe now is the time to push back. There is no argument worth mentioning that counters my contention that we should secede and join Norway!

from the Beaverton Nov 20:
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has announced $2 million more in savings for government coffers after firing the police officers investigating him on suspicion of murder.

“Making community policing more efficient keeps Albertans safe,” said Kenney while covered in the blood of the victim whose lifeless body he was standing on. “Some sacrifices have to be made to balance the budget, whether it’s an investigation into cheating a leadership race or an investigation into someone being stabbed 42 times in the neck.”

The Premier said that the firing of the entire Edmonton Police homicide unit was necessary for his province to keep the Alberta Advantage, and asked that his engraved butterfly knife stuck in the victim’s back be returned to him immediately.

“The police can continue their investigation once we’ve created the Alberta Provincial Police Force and all evidence is destroyed,” said Kenney rolling the body into a carpet for removal. “Besides, preventing people from not being murdered costs the taxpayers millions each year.”

Meanwhile, the UPC online merchandise store had already sold out their ‘Jesus is my ethics commissioner’ bumper stickers.

Bill 22 is odious in the extreme, but I’d be cautious about advocating that the unelected representative of the Crown in Alberta refuse to give it Royal Assent. Remember Kudatah George? He was trying to get the LG to do the same to Bill 6, the NDP’s farm worker safety legislation. It was improper then, and it would be improper now.

This is still a democracy, last time I checked, and the Crown’s role is not to overrule the duly elected legislature. We’re just gonna have to beat them at the polls in 2023.

If this is so distressing to you, why are you here? Stick to whatever it is that tells you just what you want to hear. I’m sure you wouldn’t know an actual communist if one walked up to you and punched you in the face.

Conrad Volk: I don’t think you have the slightest idea what communism actually is. Second, have you no shame for supporting UCP corruption, cronyism, more wasteful spending, and unethical conduct? This is exactly what the Alberta PCs delivered to us, after Peter Lougheed left office. This is exactly what the UCP are delivering. It’s not okay, no matter how hard you try to make it out to be. The corruption and rot is with the UCP.

Conrad Volk: What message are you sending your kids, and grandkids, (if you have any)? It’s okay to be a pathological liar, like Jason Kenney is? It’s okay to use cheating and deception to get where you want to be in life? Ethics and morals are meaningless? Fiscal recklessness, without accountability is okay? This is what the UCP is doing. This is what the Alberta PCs were doing for decades. Peter Lougheed would be totally disgusted with the UCP’s unethical botch job on Alberta. What a shame to let them get away with it. Foreign dictatorships would be proud of what Jason Kenney is doing. Anyone with one single fibre of ethics would be ashamed of this. The UCP have done absolutely nothing that benefits Alberta. Not one single thing!

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