Tag Archives: Lois Hole

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.

For the first time, Women are running the show in Alberta politics

Today is International Women’s Day.

Almost one hundred years ago, on April 19, 1916, women in Alberta were granted the legal right to vote through the passage of the Act to provide for Equal Suffrage (Short title: The Equal Suffrage Statutory Law Amendment Act).

The 1916 Act amended fifteen laws, city charters, and ordinances to enshrine in law that “…women shall be upon an absolute equality with and have the same rights and privileges and be subject to the same penalties and disabilities as men…” It was not until the 1960s that all women were granted the right to vote. Until those years, Indigenous Peoples, including Indigenous women, were required to give up their treaty rights in order to qualify for the vote.

One year later, in 1917, two women were elected to serve in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. Louise McKinney was elected as MLA for Claresholm and Roberta MacAdams was elected to represent members of the Canadian Armed Forces serving overseas during the First World War. Hannah Gale was elected to serve as an Alderman on Calgary City Council in December 1917.

Cora Taylor Casselman, the first woman elected to Canada’s House of Commons from Alberta, represented the riding of Edmonton-East from 1941 to 1945. In 1985, Helen Hunley became the first woman to be appointed as Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor, and she was followed years later by two other women – Lois Hole and current Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell.

It was not until 2011 that Albertans had their first woman premier, Alison Redford, who served until 2014. Just over a year later, Rachel Notley became Premier after leading her New Democratic Party to form a majority government.

Gender Balance in Alberta Government Caucus 2006 2016Because of the 2015 election, Albertans witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of women represented in the highest offices of our province. Nearly half, twenty-six of the fifty-four NDP MLAs are women, the highest percentage in Alberta’s history. Ten of Alberta’s nineteen cabinet ministers, including our premier, are women. Two cabinet ministers, Status of Women Minister Stephanie McLean and Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne, were pregnant when they were appointed, which represents another first in Alberta politics.

The shift that occurred during the last election is more dramatic when you remember that only ten years ago, there were only two women in cabinet and 10 women in the government caucus.

Women are still overall underrepresented in the Alberta Legislature, at thirty-three percent, and only three women occupy seats in the thirty-two MLA opposition – Progressive Conservative MLA Sandra Jansen and Wildrose MLAs Leela Aheer and Angela Pitt.

Unfortunately, the prominence of women in the new government has come with a dark side. In the months after becoming Premier, Ms. Notley faced a barrage of online threats of death and violence that her male predecessors appear to have been spared. Hopefully, these types of cowardly online threats will not dissuade more women from seeking office in future elections.

The election of more women to the Alberta Legislature in the governing caucus brought many new voices and perspectives into our stodgy provincial institutions. The NDP moved quickly to commit to take action to eliminate domestic violence, increase access to childcare in public buildings, change Legislative Assembly sitting hours to better accommodate MLA’s with families, raise the minimum wage and increase funding for women’s shelters. The government will also introduce new rules allowing for maternity leave for MLAs, which do not currently exist in Alberta.

Nearly one hundred years after women were granted the right to vote, there area no shortage of areas in politics and society where women are still underrepresented. But at least in Alberta, there is no shortage of strong female role models in the Alberta Legislature for young women who might aspire to become future MLAs, premiers and cabinet ministers.