Alberta’s ethics commissioner has rejected Opposition accusations that Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative caucus broke the rules when they fired the election official investigating their party.
Marguerite Trussler, in a new report, says there is no evidence the United Conservatives directly benefited under the terms of provincial ethics rules when the UCP caucus passed a bill late last year to fire election commissioner Lorne Gibson.
The NDP alleged that firing Gibson directly benefited the UCP’s long-term reputation and re-election prospects, given that Gibson was investigating the party at the time and had already levied more than $200,000 in fines toward 15 people tied to the party’s 2017 leadership race.
His work also prompted an RCMP investigation related to the so-called kamikaze campaign in which the UCP leadership campaign of Jason Kenney conspired with the campaign of candidate Jeff Callaway with the purpose of electing Kenney, who is now premier.
CBC News also has reported extensively on an alleged voter fraud scheme within the United Conservative Party’s nomination race.
But Trussler said, among other reasons, the NDP accusation falls short of proving direct benefit and if taken to its logical conclusion every decision made by a politician could be seen as a potential conflict of interest.
Trussler said it appears Matt Wolf, a senior staff member in the premier’s office, may have been involved in some “questionable political shenanigans” but said there is no evidence to suggest the premier knew about them.
“Matt Wolf was not under investigation by the Election Commissioner at the time of passage of Bill 22, and to my knowledge, there is no current investigation,” she said.
Trussler, however, made no mention of the ongoing police investigation of the kamikaze campaign in which Wolf was directly involved.
Trussler did note than one UCP member, Calgary backbencher Peter Singh, should have formally recused himself from debate given Gibson was questioning Singh at the time over campaign expenses.
The MLA was under investigation for allegations of “fraud, forgery, improper inducement and bribery,” she noted.
Singh did not vote on the bill, but Trussler said he should make up for his error now by formally apologizing to the legislative assembly.
Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said Trussler’s report points out the complaints are not an ethics issue.
“Really, it says I am going to leave this to the chief electoral officer now that the election commissioner is gone and, or, the RCMP. That this is not an issue of ethics, this is actually an issue of law, of criminal matters. What is interesting is she is only referring to ethics of MLAs,” Bratt said.
Opposition ethics critic Heather Sweet said the NDP disagrees with the report’s findings.
“The commissioner declined to pursue investigations of all but two UCP MLAs, she also confirmed that her jurisdiction does not extend to the ongoing RCMP investigations into the UCP’s leadership race,” she said in an emailed statement.
“If the ethics commissioner is unable to investigate corruption under the current Conflicts of Interest Act, then it is clear that the act must be changed to prevent such corrupt actions from occurring in the future.”