Tag Archives: Charles Rusnell

The Kenney-Callaway collusion scandal erupts days before an expected election call in Alberta

What did Jason Kenney know and when did he know it?

A treasure trove of emails and documents released by CBC investigative reporters Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell yesterday show that Jason Kenney‘s campaign for the United Conservative Party leadership provided Jeff Callaway’s campaign with resources ranging from “strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos, and attack advertisements, all aimed at undermining Kenney’s main political rival, Brian Jean.”

This comes a day after CBC broke the story that Alberta’s Election Commissioner has turned over to the RCMP its investigation into allegations of irregular political contributions involving Callaway’s so-called “kamikaze” campaign.

CBC reports that current UCP Caucus deputy chief of staff Matt Wolf, then director of issues management for Kenney’s campaign, communicated regularly with Callaway’s communications manager Cameron Davies, and at times Randy Kerr, who was working as Callaway’s campaign manager.

As director of issues management, Wolf was responsible for advising Kenney on the day-to-day campaign tactics and strategy of the leadership campaign.

Callaway’s withdrawal was something that wasn’t necessarily negotiable,” Davies told CBC. “It was something that had been decided in a meeting in mid-July between Callaway and the Jason Kenney leadership team.”

The Star Edmonton reporters Kieran Leavitt and Emma McIntosh reported that Davies said that ‘Kenney had first hand knowledge of the Callaway kamikaze campaign, and attended a meeting at Callaway’s house where it was discussed in July 2017.’

Kenney has repeatedly denied allegations that Callaway was a stalking horse candidate and he most recently denied knowledge of collusion. He told reporters at a press conference on Friday that that he asked his staff in late 2018 whether they had any knowledge of the the Callaway campaign allegations. “The result of those inquiries was that no one was aware of, had heard anything about or had in any way participated in such activity,” Kenney said.

And Clare Clancy has reported that Postmedia has obtained an email from Wolf to the UCP Caucus sent today in which he writes that “I’ve made no secret about that for those who have asked.”  The same Postmedia report says that Wolf has “gone home” and is not available for comment.

It is not clear whether “gone home” means Wolf was just not in the office at that minute or whether he has “gone home” to somewhere without wifi or cell phone signals for the duration of the election campaign.

Having one of Kenney’s senior advisors apparently leave on the eve of a provincial election call is not exactly the statement of confidence that UCP candidates and supporters will have been looking for today.

Collusion between the two leadership campaigns at this level is not illegal, but it is definitely not normal, certainly unethical and potentially a violation of the UCP’s Code of Conduct.

And as David Climenhaga noted on AlbertaPolitics.ca, U.S. Senator Howard Baker once said of a more famous political scandal, “it is almost always the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble.”

The questions of legality surround the sharing of campaign resources and donations made by individuals to Callaway’s campaign, and where that money could have originated, which is why the RCMP have been asked to investigate. It has been alleged that some donors were not donating their own money, which is a violation of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act. One donor to Callaway’s campaign has already been fined $3,500 by the Commissioner for violating the Act.

The whole Kenney-Callaway collusion scandal is bizarre mostly because, as anyone who was paying attention to Alberta politics in 2017 can attest, Kenney was the clear frontrunner in the UCP leadership race.

With 20-years of experience as an Ottawa politician and the strong backing of Canada’s Conservative establishment, Kenney had the networks, support, and money to win a race against Jean on his own, without Callaway.

But it appears that it may of not been enough for Kenney to just defeat Jean in the UCP leadership contest. Maybe Kenney’s campaign felt they needed Callaway in the race in order so that he could win so decisively that his position as leader of the UCP would be unquestionable in the face of a frequently unruly and fractious conservative movement in Alberta?

We do not have an answer to that question – and Kenney’s silence on the topic over the past two days is deafening.

One Big Happy Conservative Movement: Kamikaze campaigns, Jason Kenney, Brian Jean, Derek Fildebrandt, Scott Moe, and the RCMP

Alberta politics can be a wild ride.

With an election expected to be called in a matter of days or weeks, Alberta’s Election Commissioner has turned over to the RCMP its investigation into allegations of irregular political contributions involving the so-called “kamikaze” campaign of United Conservative Party leadership contender Jeff Callaway, according to a report by CBC investigative journalists Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell.

Brian Jean and Jason Kenney

Brian Jean and Jason Kenney

It has been alleged that that the UCP leadership campaign of Jason Kenney supported a “kamikaze mission“ by Jeff Callaway to target former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean during the UCP leadership contest in 2017.

Elections Commissioner Lorne Gibson has already issued fines of $15,000 against Callaway’s campaign manager and former UCP nomination candidate, Cameron Davies, and $3,500 against donor Karen Brown. And last week, UCP executive director Janice Harrington announced that Calgary-Beddington candidate Randy Kerr had been removed because he “was not forthright in responding to the Party’s inquiries regarding his financial contribution to the Jeff Callaway Leadership campaign.

Scott Moe and Jason Kenney

Scott Moe and Jason Kenney

The story comes the day after heavy-hitters from western Canada’s Conservative establishment, most notably Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and former prime minister Stephen Harper, rallied around Kenney following rumours that Jean was preparing to jump back into politics – with the Alberta Party or Freedom Conservative Party.

It turns out that Jean was either actually working with the Freedom Conservatives, as party leader Derek Fildebrandt claims, or was clumsily trying to position himself as a UCP leader-in-waiting in case Kenney’s leadership collapsed following the news of a potential RCMP investigation. 

Jean has provided copies of emails and text messages showing that he contacted the UCP board of directors, Kenney and Harper months ago to raise concerns about Callaway situation, only to receive no response from Kenney.

Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigned with Derek Fildebrandt in Strathmore-Brooks on the first day of the 2015 election. (Photo from Brian Jean's Facebook Page).

Wildrose leader Brian Jean campaigned with Derek Fildebrandt in Strathmore-Brooks on the first day of the 2015 election. (Photo from Brian Jean’s Facebook Page).

As Premier Rachel Notley noted to the media today, if the leader of another major political party was tied up in such an investigation, the UCP would be calling for their resignation. Notley is right, but do not expect Kenney to step aside anytime soon.

With the conservative political establishment rallying to Kenney’s defence, barring criminal charges being laid or Kenney-connected UCP organizers being perp walked in handcuffs, it is unlikely he would step aside because of or even during the course of this potential RCMP investigation. And even if Kenney did step aside, Jean now seems like a very unlikely choice to replace him. The role of interim leader would be a better fit for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper, who ably filled the role as interim leader during the UCP leadership contest.

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt joined Jason Kenney on the eve of his victory in the PC Party leadership race. (Photo credit: @pcyouthalberta on Twitter)

An RCMP investigation is serious business and would take time before coming to a resolution, meaning that it would likely not be until after the election that Albertans learn the results of an investigation. I have heard some calls for Notley to delay the election call until after this potential investigation is concluded, pushing beyond Alberta’s unique three-month fixed election window, which seems unlikely but not impossible.

Even with a significant lead in most public opinion polls, the timing of this announcement is bad news for the UCP. It is without a doubt that we will hear leaders and candidates from the other parties use the words “UCP” and “RCMP” in the same sentence very frequently over the next few weeks.

NDP put health care on their pre-election legislative agenda

Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell is scheduled to read the Speech from the Throne on Monday, March 18, and the New Democratic Party government is expected to introduce health care legislation as a flagship bill in what is expected to be a short spring session of the Legislature.

Sarah Hoffman NDP MLA Edmonton-Glenora

Sarah Hoffman

The Throne Speech and Bill 1: Protecting Public Health Care Act, could be the last big pre-election opportunity for the NDP to push forward an election narrative on an issue that plays to their strengths.

Public health care is traditionally a strong issue for the NDP and stability in the health care system has been a hallmark issue for the NDP government. Health Minister Sarah Hoffman has steered the public health care system clear of the perpetual lurch from crisis to crisis that happened under the old Progressive Conservative governments.

It is unknown how many days or weeks the NDP plan to take for this spring session, but I am told that many NDP staffers and organizers are already “on vacation” from their day jobs working hard on campaigns across the province. 


UPDATE!

CBC has released a report report with new information related to the collusion between the Kenney and Callaway campaigns during the 2017 UCP leadership contest: The leaked cache of documents show Kenney’s campaign provided Callaway with resources including strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, videos, and attack advertisements, all aimed at undermining Kenney’s main political rival, Brian Jean.”

The Redford legacy haunts Prentice Tories

Celebrating one-year since the 2012 Tory victory is Moe Amery, Premier Alison Redford, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu.

Celebrating the anniversary of the 2012 Tory victory: then-Premier Alison Redford and PC MLAs Moe Amery, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu. (photo from May 2013).

Most people rely on TripAdvisor or call a travel agent to book hotels for overseas trips, but it is alleged by intrepid CBC investigative journalists that former Premier Alison Redford dispatched a staffer to visit hotels and restaurants in advance of her trips to India, China, Switzerland, Washington, and Toronto for a cost of nearly $330,000.

Jim Prentice Alberta PC Party Premier Leader

Jim Prentice

It is not uncommon for government leaders to have advance staff, but in this case, like so many of the decisions that led to Ms. Redford’s downfall, it appears to have been done in secret (the cost of the staffer and their travel was not included in the publicly available travel expenses disclosures).

If advance work was indeed required, and there are reasons why this could be the case, it is hard to understand why the Premier’s Office would not simply hire the services of a consultant in the country or city Ms. Redford was planning to visit. Was it really necessary to hire a dedicated employee for this task?

In response to the allegations, former top Redford loyalist Thomas Luksazuk has called on the former premier to resign as the MLA for Calgary-Elbow, a move that is likely to occur after Jim Prentice wins the party leadership. Mr. Prentice is without a seat in the Assembly and the cash-flush Calgary-Elbow PC association could steer the new Premier through a potentially treacherous by-election.

Thomas Lukaszuk Alberta Edmonton MLA PC Leadership

Thomas Lukaszuk

In a fundraising email sent to supporters today, Wildrose Party president David Yager wrote that his party “will fight the by-election with every ounce of firepower we have.”

Advance Cabinet Shuffle

Signalling that Jeff Johnson‘s troubling reign as Education Minister could come to an end in September, Mr. Prentice pledged to work “in a respectful way” with the powerful Alberta Teachers’ Association.

Similar comments were made by Ms. Redford during her run for the PC Party leadership and during the 2012 election. Soon after, the PC government turned on public sector workers, threatening to legislate the contracts of teachers and public service employees and attacking their pensions. Mr. Prentice will need to follow his words with actions.

Mr. Prentice also said he will accelerate the construction of new school buildings, a promise that was originally made by Ms. Redford, but recently downplayed by Infrastructure Minister Wayne Drysdale last week. In a stunning admission, Mr. Drysdale told the media that the P3 (Public-Private Partnership) option for building the new schools was too expensive.

Wayne Drysdale MLA Grande Prairie Wapiti

Wayne Drysdale

But when it comes to governance of the education system, it is not clear what role Mr. Prentice believes locally elected school boards and municipalities should play in this decision making process, as they face intense growth pressures to raise new schools and shutter others.

Another prime target for a demotion in Mr. Prentice’s cabinet is Finance Minister Doug Horner, whose budget reporting structure was today the target of an open-letter from a group of retired Tory politicians.

Klein-era finance and revenue ministers Stockwell Day, Steve West, Greg Melchin, Lloyd Snelgrove, Lyle Oberg, and Ted Morton penned a letter to the PC leadership candidates urging them to return to the pre-Horner consolidated annual budget. Mr. Horner adopted a confusing new structure shortly after he was appointed to the post by Ms. Redford in 2012.

Notably missing from the list of former finance ministers was Jim Dinning, who spoke out against Mr. Horner’s budget reporting in April 2014.

Why none of Alberta’s 87 MLAs deserved to be listed as a Top MLA of 2013.

Do any of the MLAs working in this building deserve to be named a Top MLA of 2013?

Do any of the MLAs working in this building deserve to be named a Top MLA of 2013?

It has become tradition on this blog at the end of each year that I publish a list of Members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta who have been the best and most notable of the past year.

This year was the first time I struggled to compile a list. In the nine-years since I began writing this blog, 2013 felt like a low-point for our provincial MLAs.

The mindless hyper-partisanship of some MLAs on the floor of the Assembly, as well as the near-complete irrelevance of government backbench MLAs, made it a disappointing year in Alberta politics. While this behaviour is not new, it felt magnified this year.

On social media, most Progressive Conservative MLAs now have a lower-profile than their press secretaries and chiefs of staff, who have become mini-celebrities by spending their days locking-horns with opposition staffers in never-ending partisan arguments on Twitter.

Although there are many MLAs who work hard at the constituency level in their communities and through committee work, the degree of under-achievement on the Assembly floor left much to be desired. When it comes to their elected provincial representatives, there is little for Albertans to be proud of.

Because of this, none of Alberta’s 87 MLAs deserve to be listed as a top MLA of the year for 2013.

Notable mentions

Highwood MLA and Wildrose official opposition leader Danielle Smith is sounding and acting more like a Premier-in-waiting each day. Ms. Smith is preparing for the 2016 election and her performance over the next year will demonstrate that.

First-term Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview MLA Deron Bilous is a bright-star for the provincial New Democrats. The well-spoken and youthful Mr. Bilous is growing into a viable option to become his party’s next leader.

Calgary-Foothills PC MLA Len Webber deserves credit for his private members bill that establishes a single agency to co-ordinate organ and tissue donations in Alberta, and creates a consent-to-donate registry.

And honourable mentions go to CBC Edmonton’s investigative journalist Charles Rusnell and associate producer Jennie Russell. Through their methodical investigations and reporting, these two journalists have impacted the provincial debate and become the most effective critics of the long-governing PC Party.

Previous Top MLA lists
Top MLA’s 2012
Top MLA’s 2011
Top MLA’s 2010

CBC investigation, Wildrose aggressiveness real reasons Peter Sandhu quit Tories.

Celebrating one-year since the 2012 Tory victory: Moe Amery, Premier Alison Redford, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu.

Celebrating one-year since the 2012 Tory victory is Moe Amery, Premier Alison Redford, Wayne Cao, and Peter Sandhu.

Edmonton-Manning MLA Peter Sandhu has resigned from the Progressive Conservative Caucus after a CBC investigation revealed that a company owned by the politician had accumulated a trail of unpaid debt. The report, by investigative reporter Charles Rusnell, also found that Mr. Sandhu made a false statement in a sworn affidavit.

It is not uncommon for Tory MLAs to face investigations by the ethics commissioner, but it is uncommon for Tory MLAs to actually resign from the Government caucus because of these investigations.

Mr. Sandhu’s resignation shows how different Alberta’s political environment has become in recent years. The Wildrose Official Opposition is waging a permanent aggressive campaign against the Tories, something the long-governing party is not accustomed to. And with Premier Alison Redford facing an internal party leadership review in November, the Tories are desperately trying to avoid the kind of embarrassing controversies that dominated the political narrative in 2012.

As far as I can recollect, the last Tory MLA to resign because of an ethics scandal was in 2001, when former cabinet minister Robert “Butch” Fischer quit as the MLA for Wainwright after being investigated for a breach of ethics regarding a private business deal.

Mr. Sandhu was first elected in Edmonton-Manning in 2008, defeating Independent MLA Dan Backs, who had been kicked out of the Liberal caucus in 2006 (Mr. Backs challenged Mr. Sandhu, and was defeated, in the PC nomination contest).

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Westward, support for Premier Christy Clark‘s Liberal Party surged in yesterday’s British Columbia provincial election, leaving Adrian Dix‘s New Democrats in the dust. Long expected to form government in this year’s vote, the NDP were only able to elect 33 MLAs, compared to 50 for the Liberals. The only win the NDP are likely to celebrate is the defeat of Premier Clark in her own Vancouver-Point Grey constituency against newly elected NDP MLA David Eby.

Scandal, controversy, and electoral fortunes? What does 2013 hold for Alberta politics?

Alberta Politics in 2013

Alberta Politics in 2013

What does 2013 hold for Alberta’s political leaders? Do their performances in 2012 shed any light on how the next year will play out?

Saved from defeat by controversial comments made by social conservative elements of the Wildrose Party, Premier Alison Redford led the Progressive Conservative Party to its 12th consecutive electoral victory since 1971. Under her leadership, the Tories have sent signals suggesting their intention to build a new electoral coalition centred around moderate conservatives and liberals, a response to the loss of their hard-conservative base to the Wildrose Party.

As I wrote earlier this month, the Redford Tories have been consistently slow in responding to emerging political crises and scandals, giving the opposition Wildrose Party the opportunity to define the media narrative each time. The Tories will need to shed their geriatric reflexes and become quicker at managing crisis communications less they be defined as old, tired, and corrupt over the next three years.

On the horizon, an expected sixth consecutive provincial budget deficit and tension with Doctors’ and Teachers’ unions could be the defining political issues of the next few months. The election of an NDP government in British Columbia could also reopen discussions around the development of the Northern Gateway Pipeline from Bruderheim to Kitimat.

Old and corrupt is exactly what Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith wants the Tories to look like in 2013.

In advance of the April 2012 election, the Wildrose was at its strongest in the public opinion polls when the newspaper headlines trumpeted tales of Tory corruption. Her new 17 MLA caucus, which has now faced against the Tories on the floor of the Assembly,  is battle ready to continue its permanent negative campaign against the Tories in 2013.

The question is whether the Wildrose Party can transform itself into more than just a conservative political war machine. Can the Wildrose Party led by Ms. Smith transform itself into a government-in-waiting?

Optimists in the Liberal Party will tell you that the fact their party won any seats in the 2012 election is proof that Raj Sherman has earned the right to remain party leader. The Liberals did survive the election with five MLAs, but the former Tory MLA led the party to its worst electoral showing in more than twenty-five years.

Deprived of its long-held official opposition status, the newly rebranded Liberalberta Party now faces the difficult challenge of figuring out where it fits in Alberta’s new political landscape. Popular Calgary MLA Kent Hehr and party president Todd Van Vliet clashed earlier this month over what the future direction of the Liberal Party should be. The next year will show indications whether Dr. Sherman’s rag-tag caucus can survive the three years until the next election.

New Democrat leader Brian Mason wants to build a bigger tent. The NDP, electorally stuck within Edmonton city limits for the past twenty-years, is hoping to take advantage of the electoral decline of the Liberal Party to expand his own party’s base of support. While the NDP is expected to form government in British Columbia and is on an electoral upswing in Ontario, Alberta has historically not been fertile soil for even moderate versions of the social democratic party.

Currently the longest-serving party leader, Mr. Mason told the Calgary Herald in a year-end interview that he plans to lead his party into the next election in 2016. The next election would be Mr. Mason’s fourth election as party leader and will mark his twenty-seventh year as an elected politician.

While experience is important, and sometimes irreplaceable, party supporters will need to ask themselves whether Mr. Mason is the leader who can bring the NDP to the next level in Alberta. With a newly expanded and younger caucus, New Democrats will be forgiven if they look to Rachel Notley, David Eggen, or rising star Deron Bilous, to be a fresh face for their party in the next election. An inspiring leadership race with a new generation of candidates could give the NDP a significant boost in Conservative-dominated Alberta.

The next 365 days could be interesting for Alberta’s political scene.

Happy New Year!

_______

There is little doubt in my mind that the title for story-maker of the year on Alberta’s political scene in 2012 is held by CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell. A serious investigative journalist, Mr. Rusnell uncovered some of the defining political stories of the year from Allaudin Meralli‘s and Lynn Redford‘s expense claims to the unfortunately named “Tobaccogate“. These stories shaped the political debate in Alberta at critical moments in 2012. (EDIT: I mistakenly gave credit to Mr. Rusnell for uncovering the controversial payments to MLAs for serving on a committee that rarely met. Credit for this story belongs to Scott Hennig).

Wildrose MLAs stage walk out during dramatic tobacco conflict.

Question Period at Alberta's Legislative Assembly

Another hour of Question Period in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. Another circus event for political watchers.

Theatric and dramatic antics dominated this afternoon’s hour-long Question Period in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly.

To start the drama, the official opposition Wildrose Caucus raised a point of personal privilege claiming that Premier Alison Redford misled the Assembly by claiming she did not choose the law firm involved in a $10 billion lawsuit against the tobacco industry (the Premier’s ex-husband is a partner at a law firm awarded a government contract in the lawsuit).

Soon after raising the point of privilage, Assembly Speaker Gene Zwozdesky overruled and denied Danielle Smith and her Wildrose MLAs an opportunity to ask any questions related to the Premier’s alleged conflict of interest in the tobacco lawsuit. In response, most of the 17 MLA Wildrose caucus stormed out of the Assembly Chamber in protest (the dramatic effect was lessened when a number of Wildrose MLAs quickly returned to their seats in order to ask questions not related to the tobacco conflict claims).

In a bizarre twist, Speaker Zwozdesky held up a Government of Alberta press release as evidence that the Premier did not mislead the Assembly because the final decision to select the law firm was signed by her successor, then-Justice Minister and current Agriculture Minster Verlyn Olson. The Speaker then declared that it matters not whether the Premier selected the law firm, she did not mislead the Assembly because her successor signed the contract.

(I just had a Bill Clinton flashback).

Gary Bikman Shill

Wildrose MLA Gary Bikman’s handmade signage.

Taking full advantage of the attention of the Twittersphere and the Press Gallery, the Wildrose Party cried foul and complained that the ruling was an affront to democracy (Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Gary Bikman wrote “SHILL” on the back of his notebook, leaving political watchers to suspect the message was directed at Speaker Zwozdesky). Tories claimed the rookie Wildrose MLAs simply did not understand the rules of Westminster-style parliamentary procedure.

Meanwhile, New Democrat leader Brian Mason escalated his party’s call for Premier Redford to step down (a demand which she is unlikely to acquiesce). Liberal leader Raj Sherman clumsily attempted to tie the Premier’s decision not to step down with the suspension of Gary Mar, Alberta’s envoy to Hong Kong, earlier this year. Premier Redford suspended Mr. Mar from his duties overseas after allegations that former Tory leadership candidate used his title to raise money to pay-off his political debts (he was reinstated after the election).

Since entering office, Premier Redford has tended to initially respond slowly to political crises confronting her party and respond decisively once the issue has become a political problem. Whether it be the infamous No-Meet Committee, the never ending MLA pay issues, the Allaudin Merali expense fiasco, the Tories default strategy appears to be to ignore the issue in hopes that it will disappear.

It has been five days since CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell first reported on the Premier’s alleged conflict of interest and the Tories are still stumbling through a public relations debacle that should have been easy to resolve.

Whether or not Premier Redford is in an actual conflict of interest, the Tories are doing a good job looking guilty and the opposition is only happy to help them on their way.

A smoking gun? Premier Redford accused of conflict in tobacco case.

An exclusive story from CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell:

Premier Alison Redford, while justice minister, personally chose her ex-husband’s law firm for a government tobacco-litigation contract worth potentially tens of millions of dollars in contingency fees, a CBC News investigation has found.

One of Canada’s top experts in conflict of interest says Redford was in a clear conflict and should have not made that decision.

Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, says Alison Redford should have recused herself from the decision-making process in the awarding of a contract to her ex-husband’s law firm while she was justice minister. (CBC)

As CBC News first revealed in May, the Redford government awarded the tobacco litigation contract — at $10 billion, the largest legal action in Alberta’s history — to International Tobacco Recovery Lawyers, a consortium of law firms from Florida, Ontario and Alberta.

The consortium includes the Calgary firms of Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes (JSS) and Cuming & Gillespie. The two firms have close personal and political ties to both Redford and the Progressive Conservative Party.

Redford’s former husband is Robert Hawkes, a partner in JSS, who served as her transition team leader after she won the Progressive Conservative Party leadership race in 2011 and ascended to the premier’s office. Read more…

Something was rotten in the former Calgary Health Region.

Tory Party Calgary Health Region Fundraising

A PC Party fundraiser mourns the loss of the Calgary Health Region.

Intrepid CBC investigative journalist Charles Rusnell has uncovered another swath of illegal political donations made to Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party:

Lynn Redford, sister of Alberta Premier Alison Redford, attended Progressive Conservative party events at public expense and helped organize an annual Tory barbeque while she was a senior executive at the Calgary Health Region.

Expense-claim records, obtained by CBC News through Freedom of Information, show Redford attended a Conservative party annual general meeting in Edmonton, and several fundraisers, including premier’s dinners and a golf tournament fundraiser for Tory MLA Dave Coutts.

The documents show she attended these functions, all, or in part, at the health region’s expense, claiming fundraiser tickets, travel costs, mileage, hotel rooms and even more than $200 for liquor for a Tory barbeque.

Redford also expensed a breakfast with her sister Alison, a couple months after she was first elected in 2008.

Under Alberta law, it is illegal for publicly-funded institutions, including the Calgary Health Region, to make political donations.

As I wrote on August 23 2012, for many years, the Calgary Health Region benefited from political proximity to both Premier Ralph Klein, and former Provincial Treasurer Jim Dinning, who later served as chairman of the health region’s board of directors. Numerous political archetypes with close connections to the PC Party were appointed by the government to serve on the health authority’s board of directors.

This summer, following the implementation of an audit to investigate allegations of misspending by an executive of the former Capital Health Region, the government and Alberta Health Services initially resisted expanding an audit to other former regional health authorities.

Limiting the investigation to the former Edmonton health executives fuelled speculation that executives of the former Calgary Health Region, now comfortably occupying senior positions at AHS, were campaigning to discredit the work done by executives of Edmonton’s former Capital Health Region.

Following the expense claims controversy, current AHS President and CEO Chris Eagle, a former Calgary Health Region executive, reimbursed the provincial health authority for expenses including airfare and liquor.

It is suspected that the creation of the provincial health superboard was a reaction to the political brazenness of former Calgary Health Region CEO and Klein-loyalist Jack Davis. As the Calgary Health Region recorded a $85 million deficit, Mr. Davis went public to get more money from Premier Ed Stelmach’s government before the 2008 election, which threatened to make it an campaign issue.

Soon after the Tories were re-elected in 2008, the remaining regional health authorities were dissolved and Alberta Health Services was created.

allaudin merali’s extravagant expenses and severance package a blow to alberta health services, redford government.

The highest echelons of Alberta Health Services are once again being rocked by a firestorm of public criticism after it was revealed that AHS Chief Financial Officer Allaudin Merali had claimed more than $345,000 in expenses to the former Capital Health regional authority.

Allaudin Merali Alberta Health Services

Allaudin Merali

Mr. Merali was fired by AHS hours before the Canadian Boardcasting Corporation aired the story about how he claimed thousands of dollars on lavish meals at restaurants, bottles of wine, catering, and an expensive phone for his Mercedes Benz car. Shifting quickly into damage control mode, AHS soon after released Mr. Merali’s expense claims on their website.

Making the controversy even more outrageous, Mr. Merali is expected to receive a severance package from AHS after his employment was terminated with cause (even AHS CEO Chris Eagle does not have this provision included in his contract).

The story was uncovered by intrepid CBC reporter Charles Rusnell, who has become one of Alberta’s star investigative journalists after uncovering cases of pork-barrel politics and scores of illegal donations made by public institutions to the Progressive Conservative Party.

The controversy claimed a second high-ranking AHS official yesterday as former Capital Health CEO Shiela Weatherill resigned from the AHS board of directors. Seen as a voice of credibility after her successful time as the CEO of Capital Health until it was merged into AHS in 2008, Ms. Weatherill was appointed to the AHS board after the departure of controversial former AHS President and CEO Stephen Duckett in late 2010. Ms. Weatherill was Mr. Merali’s boss when he served as CFO of Capital Health, when many of the expense claims were made.

Fred Horne Alberta Health Minister

Fred Horne

Questions are also being raised about the role of Alberta’s current Ethics Commissioner, Neil Wilkinson, who served as chair of the Capital Health board of directors during Mr. Merali’s time as CFO of the former regional health authority.

The controversy is a blow for Premier Alison Redford‘s PC government, which was swept into office earlier this year after promising to breath new life into the four decade old government. To his credit, Health Minister Fred Horne responded quickly to the controversy and promised that future expenses for public officials at that level will be made public on a quarterly basis. With the damage already done, the largest measure of response the government has is to ensure this does not happen again.

As others have already pointed out, public funds used to fill these types of extravagant expense claims only take money away from where it belongs – on the front-lines of our public health care system.

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.

why don’t i feel outraged about the illegal donations scandal?

I feel like I should be outraged about recent allegations that Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives have received thousands of dollars in illegal donations from municipalities and public institutions including the University of Lethbridge, but I am not.

Under elections finance legislation in Alberta, it is illegal for these entities to make financial contributions to a political party.

Perhaps it is the ingrained institutionalism of the Progressive Conservative Association as Alberta’s governing party for more than 40 years that has made these types of allegations seem unsurprising and feel normal. Is this just how municipalities and public institutions do business in a virtual one-party state like Alberta?

I offer three thoughts on this issue:

1) If laws were broken, then those laws need to be enforced and mechanisms need to be created so that these laws are not broken again.

2) These illegal donations were not collected in desperation. The PCs did not need this money. In 2010, the governing party raised more than $3 million, which is twice that of the closest opposition party (the Wildrose Party). I have the impression that some of these financial contributions were solicited and collected by local volunteers, most whom may have unknowingly broken the law (…because this is they way business has always been done in Alberta).

3) Will it stick? CBC reporter Charles Rusnell broke this story and has been producing some excellent investigative journalism, but I am skeptical if this will be an issue that will seriously hurt Alison Redford‘s PCs in the upcoming general election.

Alberta’s opposition parties are skilled at generating angry and outraged media releases, but proving to Albertans that they are fit to govern is a completely different challenge.

wildrose behind mysterious ‘push poll’ attacking alison redford.

Politics in Alberta got a little meaner this week when word of a new ‘push poll’ attacking Premier Alison Redford began to circulate among political circles.

In typical push poll fashion, the automated telephone survey asks participants to answer a series of loaded negative questions about Premier Redford, and then respond to whether they would be likely to vote for her or not. The expected results of this push poll should show participants having a negative opinion of the Premier.

Alleging the Premier has supported evil federal Liberal childcare policies and targeting the financial woes of her Chief of Staff Stephen Carter (who is incorrectly described as the top civil servant), the push poll is obviously meant to illicit a negative reaction towards to Premier.

The big question left unanswered before today was who exactly was behind this push poll. The tone and slant of the questions strongly suggested that the authors of this push poll are very sympathetic to the cause of Danielle Smith and her Wildrose Party – and this evening, intrepid CBC reporter Charles Rusnell reported that the Wildrose is, in fact, behind the nasty push poll.

Care of David Climenhaga‘s Alberta Diary blog, here is the audio of the notorious push poll that attacks Premier Redford:

Push-Poll Questions by djclimenhaga

cbc uncovers den of “pork-barrel politics” near canada’s ufo landing pad.

 

St. Paul, Alberta: home of UFO landing pads and "pork-barrel politics"

St. Paul, Alberta: home of UFO landing pads and "pork-barrel politics"

Welcome to St. Paul, Alberta, the home of Alberta’s first official UFO landing pad and now pork-barrel politics” according to an investigation by intrepid CBC reporter Charles Rusnell:

A top municipal official in St. Paul, Alta., used the city’s email system to solicit votes during the Conservative leadership race in a bid to ensure a local MLA remained in cabinet, a CBC News investigation has found.

Ron Boisvert, the town’s chief administrative officer, also helped organize a golf tournament in June to raise campaign funds for MLA Ray Danyluk. Boisvert participated in the tournament at the town’s expense, along with the mayor and two councillors.

It’s illegal in Alberta to use public money for partisan politics.

It has also been revealed that similar financial contributions were made by the Town of Barrhead and and Town of Cardston, where green fees were waived at a municipally-owned golf course in order to support a local PC Party fundraising event.

ted morton aka frederick lee and the shredder.

 Ted Morton, Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate

Ted Morton aka Frederick Lee

After a week of dodging questions from intrepid CBC reporter Charles Rusnell about a covert email alias and shredded ministerial documents, former Finance Minister Ted Morton‘s campaign for Alberta’s Progressive Conservative leadership has taken its first big hit with just more than a week before the first ballot vote.

After making ‘government transparency’ a key theme of his campaign, squeaky clean conservative Dr. Morton’s commitment to the pledge is being questioned when it was revealed that he used a covert email address under his little known full first- and middle-names “Frederick Lee” to conduct government business. It is being suggested that Dr. Morton’s covert email alias could have foiled Freedom of Information requests.

CBC discovered that correspondence and documents, including those connected to the covert email alias, were shredded or destroyed when Dr. Morton left his ministry to seek the PC leadership earlier this year.

A spokesperson for Alberta’s Information and Privacy Commissioner told the media that the Office would be launching an immediate investigation into the shredding allegations.

Dr. Morton downplayed the criticisms yesterday, but that did not stop his right-wing competitors Rick Orman and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith from tackling him in the media. Ms. Smith claimed that because the documents belonged to the people of Alberta, Dr. Morton’s staff had no right to feed them to the paper shredder on a whim.

Will these revelations hurt Dr. Morton’s chances in next week’s leadership vote? It is difficult to say. Dr. Morton has run a stealth campaign during this contest, which has focused on low-profile events and selling memberships. This is very different from his run in 2006, which publicly stressed his social conservative values on issues like same-sex marriage.

Watch for the other PC candidates to train their guns on Dr. Morton’s last minute weakness in the final week.