Alberta ethics commissioner asked to launch two new probes into UCP

Alberta’s ethics and conflict of interest commissioner is being asked to investigate the vote to fire elections commissioner Lorne Gibson and the appointment of Steve Allan to head a public inquiry. 

On Wednesday, the Alberta NDP sent commissioner Marguerite Trussler a 21-page letter asking her to investigate the premier, several ministers and MLAs for possible conflict of interest violations in the introduction, debate and vote on Bill 22. 

Included on the list are Premier Jason Kenney, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Minister Leela Aheer, Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda, Seniors and Housing Minster Jacqueline Pon, Mental Health and Addictions Associate Minister Jason Luan and MLAs Peter Singh, Jordan Walker and Joseph Schow.

The bill, which was introduced and passed over four days last month, allowed the government to fire election commissioner Lorne Gibson in the middle of his investigation into the 2017 UCP leadership race won by Kenney. 

“Bill 22 marked a gross attack on our democracy,” NDP Leader Rachel Notley said at a news conference in Edmonton. “This is too important for us to let go of. It is too important for us to move on from and so we will not do that.” 

Jess Sinclair, press secretary for government House leader Jason Nixon, said Notley was casting “baseless aspirations on Alberta’s duly-elected representatives.”

“Any MLA will of course reply to the ethics commissioner, on this or any matter, should they be contacted,” the statement said. 

The government says the position of the election commissioner will continue under chief electoral officer Glenn Resler, who can rehire Gibson if he chooses. 

Steve Allan hiring

On Wednesday, Watchdog group Democracy Watch asked Trussler to investigate Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer’s involvement with the appointment of Allan to lead the public inquiry into alleged foreign funding of attacks on Alberta’s resource industry. 

CBC News reported last month that Allan donated $1,000 to Schweitzer’s UCP leadership campaign and urged associates to vote for him in the April 16th election. 

Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher wants an investigation into whether Schweitzer broke conflict of interest legislation. 

“Democracy Watch’s conclusion is that the assistance made Mr. Allan a person directly associated with Minister Schweitzer, and made it clearly improper for Minister Schweitzer to participate in any specific decision that might further Mr. Allan’s private interests, including the decision to appoint him to a $290,000 position as an inquiry commissioner,” Conacher wrote. 

Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher wants an investigation into whether Schweitzer broke conflict of interest legislation.  (David Richard/CBC)

Jonah Mozeson, Schweitzer’s senior press secretary, dismissed the allegations in the Democracy Watch letter. 

“It’s frankly ridiculous to suggest that donating one-fourth of the maximum allowable amount over two years ago or volunteering during a nomination campaign somehow secures an appointment,” Mozeson said in a written statement.  “Again, Mr. Allan was chosen solely based on his professional experience.”

Trussler letter

Trussler, in a letter to Notley on Nov. 21 while the bill was in third and final reading, said some MLAs could be in conflict of interest if they voted in Bill 22. 

Individuals who were being investigated by Gibson or the RCMP would be in conflict if they voted, Trussler said.

MLAs who had close associates under investigation would likely be furthering the private interests of those associates if they voted on or discussed the bill. 

Trussler said she would have to speak to MLAs who have been questioned by Gibson or the elections commissioner to determine whether there was a problem. 

Schow, the UCP MLA for Cardston-Siksika, Walker, the UCP MLA for Sherwood Park, Schweitzer, Aheer, Panda, Pon and Luan have been interviewed by the RCMP in their investigation into possible identity theft and fraud in the UCP leadership vote. 

Neither Panda nor Kenney took part in the public debate on Bill 22, but they may have been involved in discussions at the cabinet table. Notley wants Trussler to probe whether they recused themselves from discussion on the bill when it came up at cabinet.  

Singh has been investigated by the elections commissioner. However, it appears he didn’t vote on Bill 22 at any stage of debate according to records compiled by the NDP.

The NDP suggests he could have been in breach of the conflicts of interest act if he spoke favourably about the bill to any other MLA. 

Notley also asks Trussler to look at the remaining members of the UCP caucus to determine if they were involved in any of Gibson’s investigations. 

Notley told reporters at Wednesday’s news conference that the NDP caucus is consulting with lawyers to see if there is a viable legal action they can take. 

 “We must use every platform within our democratic system to ensure that the light of day is shone on what I believe very strongly was a corrupt act to keep many things from ever seeing the light of day,” Notley said.