A national democratic watchdog wants the RCMP to investigate the firing of Alberta’s election commissioner, who was in the midst of an ongoing probe into the province’s governing party.
Bill 22, which was pushed through the legislature by Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party in the span of four days, merged the commissioner’s office with Elections Alberta.
Democracy Watch argues the move was meant to stymie ongoing investigations into the UCP leadership race and others and send a clear message to interim commissioner and chief electoral officer Glen Resler, whose contract is up for renewal by the UCP cabinet in April.
The watchdog sent a letter to the RCMP on Dec. 4.
“The Kenney cabinet firing the election commissioner was like firing a top police investigator and a judge to try to stop trials of people associated with the cabinet,” said Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Connacher.
“Whether they stopped those investigations and proceedings or not doesn’t matter, because it’s a violation of the rule to even attempt to do that.”
The organization also wants a special prosecutor appointed to oversee the investigation to avoid a conflict of interest with current Justice Minister and Attorney General Doug Schweitzer.
“All the cabinet ministers and anyone who serves at their pleasure, deputy ministers, they can’t be involved in overseeing the prosecutor, let alone even choosing a special prosecutor, as they all have a conflict of interest,” said Conacher.
Alberta’s ethics commissioner warned UCP MLAs that they could be in a conflict of interest simply for voting on Bill 22, prior to its passage.
The former election commissioner, Lorne Gibson, had levied $207,223 in fines tied to the “kamikaze” leadership campaign of Jeff Callaway, who collaborated with Kenney’s leadership campaign in order to attack Kenney’s chief rival, Brian Jean.
According to the commissioner’s findings, Callaway funnelled banned corporate cash into his campaign through donors who agreed to put their names to donations with funds that were not their own.
Both Kenney and Callaway have denied that their teams collaborated, but CBC News has obtained emails and documents that outline the collaboration, including a resignation speech emailed to Callaway’s team from Kenney’s current executive director of issues management, Matt Wolf.
‘Misreporting and mischaracterization’
The UCP government argues it merged the two offices in order to save money and that all investigations currently underway will continue.
Elections Alberta also said investigations will move forward.
“Transition activities will be taking place, commencing with a review of the current activities of the former Office of the Election Commissioner, to determine ongoing budgetary, workload and resource needs,” it said in a statement shortly after passage of Bill 22.
Kenney has previously said accusations that the move amounts to political interference in an ongoing investigation are based on “misreporting and mischaracterization.”
The move is estimated to save approximately $200,000 per year, not counting fine money that is returned to the government, but Democracy Watch questions that assertion.
“One of the main reasons that I think an investigation is warranted is that the line that the cabinet gave, that getting rid of the election commissioner would save money, has been completely contradicted by the chief electoral officer,” said Connacher.
“He says there will be no savings. In fact, he’s proposed more money for investigations in the next year budget than the election commissioner Gibson had proposed.”
The organization also says Resler could be reluctant to aggressively pursue investigations with his job on the line.
Ongoing RCMP investigation
The RCMP is already investigating the UCP, under the direction of a special prosecutor from Ontario, for allegations of identity fraud tied to the 2017 leadership race.
Allegations of voter fraud have been circulating for months and CBC News has confirmed that fraudulent email addresses were used to cast ballots in the contest.
A volunteer on Kenney’s campaign has also alleged he was involved in a scheme to call voters and collect their PINs which were then used by other volunteers to cast ballots for Kenney.
A statement from government house leader Jason Nixon’s spokesperson pointed to commitments from Elections Alberta that investigations will continue when asked for comment on the Democracy Watch letter.