Tag Archives: Brian Fjeldheim

Alberta Tories confused about illegal donations.

Alberta Tories ConfusedCaught having accepted 45 prohibited donations from municipalities and publicly-funded institutions since 2009, the Progressive Conservative Association spent the past few days sending mixed messages whether it would or already had repaid the full amount of illegals funds as requested by Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer .

Party officials previously stated the funds would be repaid, but during a conference call to PC constituency presidents last month, executive director Kelley Charlebois laid out laid out plans to not repay the funds.

“Repaying the money does us no good in the court of public opinion” – PC Party executive director Kelley Charlebois

PC Party president Jim McCormick told the Edmonton Journal last week that he felt the orders from the elections office to repay illegal donations were unfair. Mr. McCormick later downplayed his public comments in an email to PC Party supporters in which he stated his party had “fully and willingly complied and repaid the dollars [the Chief Elections Officer] asked us to.”

Mr. McCormick then stated that talks between the PC Party and the elections office would continue and his “argument is not relative to the dollar amount but rather a request for clarification on the legislation.” There is some irony in that some of the prohibited donations were made to now-Justice Minister Jonathan DenisCalgary-Egmont constituency association.

2012 PC campaign manager Susan Elliott jumped to her party’s defence on Facebook, claiming that party officials had no way of knowing that many of the donors were being reimbursed by municipalities or public institutions for money spent at party fundraisers.

I am mystified by the Chief Electoral Officer’s conclusion that a political party is responsible if an individual illegally expenses a political donation to a prohibited organization. So Joe Smith buys a fundraising ticket using a personal cheque or credit card. That’s OK. He collects the tax receipt personally. That’s OK. But later, he submits the cost on his expense claim. He has now done something illegal. The prohibited organization does something illegal by paying it. But how is it the political party is supposed to anticipate Joe’s actions, learn about them later, prevent them or correct them? Since they can do none of those things, why are they the ones cited?

The 45 cases of illegal donations identified in the investigation were all made to the PC Party, not to any of the eight other registered political parties in Alberta.

In some cases Ms. Elliott’s argument may hold water, but in other cases the PC constituency organizers may have directly or indirectly solicited funds from these individuals through their places of employment in municipalities or public institutions.

In one case, which is not being investigated because it took place before the arbitrary 2009 cut-off date set by the elections office, a PC constituency official was actually employed by the organization that the donation was made by. In the former Athabasca-Redwater constituency, the local PC President was the head of the Athabasca University secretariat, which approved the financial contributions.

As was the case with the long list of municipalities that were named in the investigation, they were encouraged to purchase tickets to PC Party fundraisers as a means of lobbying provincial politicians. Over its 42 years in power, the PCs have fostered the creation of a culture where the lines between government business and party business are sometimes blurred.

The elections office is also investigating allegations that pharmaceutical industry billionaire and Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz made a $430,000 donation to the PC Party in the 2012 election, blowing away the $30,000 annual contribution limit stipulated in the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosures Act.

What the Heck? Tory tied to donation controversy now head of Alberta Economic Development Authority.

Via the Edmonton Journal:

Conservative linked to Katz donation named chairman of the Alberta Economic Development Authority

BY KAREN KLEISS, EDMONTON JOURNAL JANUARY 30, 2013

EDMONTON – Premier Alison Redford has given a provincial political appointment to a veteran Conservative insider who allegedly brokered a $430,000 donation from Oilers owner and billionaire Daryl Katz.

Media reports quoting unnamed sources suggested Wednesday that Calgary businessman Barry Heck is the party fundraiser who persuaded Katz to make the donation now under investigation by Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer.

Redford has named Heck chairman of the Alberta Economic Development Authority.

Heck has declined to comment on the allegations, citing the ongoing investigation.

On another election finance related note, Progressive Conservative President Jim McCormick has also asked Chief Electoral Officer O. Brian Fjeldheim to reverse orders mandating that the party repay thousands of dollars in illegal donations tied to post-secondary institutions and local governments

illegal donations continue to dog alberta’s tories.

Tories Illegal Donations

Another case of illegal donations to the PC Party has been relvealed.

In the weeks leading to the election call earlier this year, it appeared that a series of illegal donations collected by Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Association could become a defining issue of the campaign. The donations, made public through the great investigative work of CBC reporter Charles Rusnell, revealed that many public institutions, municipalities, and organizations that receive public funds had made financial or in-kind donations to the PC Party. Under the laws that govern Alberta’s political financing, these types of contributions are deemed illegal.

As the Writ was dropped and the electioneering began, the public focus shifted away from the illegal donations towards more sensational issues, like MLA pay, which were soon eclipsed by other issues and the Tories were re-elected on April 23.

Brian Fjeldheim

Brian Fjeldheim

As the Assembly ended and summer break began last week, Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer O. Brian Fjeldheim had announced that Elections Alberta was charging fines to some of these groups but would not make public the names of these groups. Mr. Fjeldheim told the media that he is barred by law from making these names public and does not have the authority to further investigate breaches of Alberta’s political financing laws.

Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk and Justice Minister Jonathan Denis responded by claiming the Chief Electoral Officer’s inability to publicly release the group names was a results of recommendations made by Mr. Fjeldheim’s predecessor, Lorne Gibson.

The Calgary Herald’s Don Braid interviewed Mr. Gibson, who disputed this claim and said he is being used as a scapegoat by Tory politicians:

It stretches the bounds of credibility to suggest that the intention of (my) recommendation was to keep private the results of an investigations that lead to a finding of wrongdoing.

This week, Mr. Rusnell unveiled another case of illegal contributions. Documents obtained by the CBC show that Joe Lougheed, a prominent lawyer and the son of former Premier Peter Lougheed, purchased $4,500 worth of tickets to PC Party fundraisers on behalf of the University of Calgary and billed the University extra hours to pay for them. To the university’s credit, their legal counsel put an end to the practice.

Joe Lougheed

Joe Lougheed

Mr. Lougheed’s connections to the PC Party are more than just familial. He has been active in that party and he ran for to be President of the PC Party in 2007. He was defeated by Marg Mrazek in what was split between northern and southern regional factions within the party (Ms.Mrazek was from St. Albert, which is located north of Edmonton).  At the time, Mount Royal University Professor David Taras described Mr. Lougheed as “a symbol of the old party and Calgary power.”

Since her stepping into the role last year, PC Premier Alison Redford has made a priority to improve her party’s image amid these types of allegations. This is not an easy task. After four decades in government, her party has essentially institutionalized this type of behaviour. I would not be shocked if the University of Calgary is not the final example.

Before the election, opposition party leaders claimed that that many of these institutions and municipalities faced intimidation to make those donations. Liberal Party leader Raj Sherman frequently used the example of the banned donations to accuse the Tories of practising “warlord politics” in rural Alberta.

While there does not seem to be much hard evidence proving the claims of intimidation, Alberta’s one-party state political environment has certainly created the belief that joining and supporting the PC Party is the only way to participate and influence debate in this province. It is just the way business is done in Alberta.

alison redford’s big opportunity.

(Re)Enter Mister Fjeldheim.
There has been a certain amount of attention focused on Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer and his comments regarding his philosophy towards his newly re-inherited position. Brian Fjeldheim, who held the position from 1998 to 2005, was recently reappointed following the dismissal of his more activist successor-turned-predecessor Lorne Gibson. After re-assuming his role last week, Mr. Fjeldheim was a little more reserved when describing his role in advocating the importance of the vote to Albertans (60% of Albertans did not vote in the 2008 election). Dave Breakenridge offered some thoughts on Mr. Fjeldhiem’s comments in today’s Calgary Sun.

Open up the Elections Act.
In the next few weeks, Justice Minister Alison Redford is expected to introduce legislative amendments to Alberta’s aging Elections Act. Minister Redford has said that the amendments will include some of the 182 recommended changes submitted by Mr. Gibson before his departure (but will not include fixed election dates). Of course, the recommendations included in the Bill will have be carefully chosen and measured for political impact by Minister Redford and her PC cabinet colleagues. Minister Redford’s amendments will likely include changes to how Returning Officers are chosen. During the 2008 election, it was revealed that the PC Party had provided lists of candidates for Returning Officers to the Elections Office (over half of the appointed Returning Officers had partisan connections to the PC Party).

Elections procedures can be improved through legislation, but democratic participation can be strengthened through meaningful engagement. In September 2007, the Government of New Zealand tried something completely different. As an innovative way to capture the views of the public on what a new Policing Act should look like, the Ministry of Justice launched an online Wiki. This Wiki allowed citizens from across that country to contribute their ideas and collaborate in the creation of new legislation.

What better way to reinvigorate our Elections Act than by opening up the amendment process to allow Albertans to collaborate by contributing their ideas for changes and improvements? What better opportunity to do things differently in than by allowing Albertans to invest their own ideas into the development of the important piece of legislation that will decide how their elections are structured? Is there a more meaningful piece of legislation that could be opened up to public collaboration than the Elections Act? Would this kind of online collaboration succeed in Alberta? There is only one way to find out.

Prior to entering elected office in 2008, Minister Redford cultivated an international legal career helping build democracies in countries around the globe (including as one of four international election commissioners appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations to administer Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections in September 2005). Legislative amendments can improve structure, but opening up the Elections Act to real public collaboration could be Minister Redford’s big opportunity to create more meaningful democratic participation in Alberta.

Making it easier for students to vote.
I am sure that there would be no shortage of Albertans who would contribute their ideas to an open dialogue on improving our Elections Act. The Council of Alberta University Students submitted a handful of recommendations (pdf) to Minister Redford last year when they heard about the upcoming legislative amendments. Each of the five recommendations have been adopted by Elections officials in provinces across Canada (though no jurisdiction has adopted all five). The recommendations would improve access to a voting demographic that due to its geographic transience, are likely to face barriers and challenges to participating in elections.

These are good recommendation, most of which would require minor administrative changes that are not anything that a little Alberta ingenuity could not overcome. Decreasing barriers to voting for younger Albertans will create a positive culture of participating in elections and could help create life-long voters – a group that is increasingly becoming a minority in Alberta elections. I hope to see some of these positive improvements included among Minister Redford’s amendments.

Coming Soon: New Maps.
Alberta’s Electoral Boundaries Commission is due to release its interim report by February 26, 2010.