PHOTOS: Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Naresh Bhardwaj has left the Prentice cabinet while the party investigates accusations he offered a $10,000 bribe to a challenger for his riding’s PC nomination. Below: NDP Leader Rachel Notley and departing Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw.
Under the circumstances, Premier Jim Prentice had little choice Friday but to ask Naresh Bhardwaj, associate minister for persons with developmental disabilities, to leave the cabinet in the face of allegations the Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA offered a backer of a challenger for the riding’s Progressive Conservative nomination a $10,000 bribe to withdraw support.
The allegation is unproven, and due process requires that a person be treated as innocent until proven guilty by a court of law. But the Iron Law of Politics also requires that a minister subject to even preposterous claims must step aside until the matter is investigated and resolved.
It’s been this way for a long time, as anyone familiar with the case of Caesar’s wife will recall. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. Or, as Julius Caesar put it himself: “My wife ought not even to be under suspicion.”
However, NDP Leader Rachel Notley said yesterday, by relying on party officials to investigate the matter, “Mr. Prentice is failing to ensure that the interests of Albertans come before the interests of the PC party.”
She called on the governing party to refer the accusations to the RCMP for an impartial investigation, notwithstanding Justice Minister Jonathan Denis’s claim in this House on Thursday that it’s strictly a “party matter.”
“I am calling on Mr. Prentice to show leadership in this matter and keep his promise of running a clean government,” she said.
In this, of course, Ms. Notley is right, although that will be difficult for Mr. Prentice and the PC’s to acknowledge in a province where they have essentially been able to make up the rules to suit themselves for generations.
Mr. Bhardwaj will remain a member of the PC caucus.
On Friday, a candidate for the PC nomination in another riding, Edmonton-Meadowlark, was disqualified by the PC Party’s nomination committee not long after another candidate said someone from a competing campaign had offered him money to drop out of the race.
Edmonton-Meadowlark is now represented by former Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, who won’t be seeking re-election. If nothing else, what this kind of thing illustrates in just how valuable the ruling party’s nomination is seen to be in a one-party state like Alberta.
We await developments.
Disillusioned, he says, Wildroser to leave politics
Last week, first-term Wildrose MLA Shane Saskiw announced he won’t be seeking re-election. Watching 11 of his caucus mates cross the floor of the Legislature to join Premier Jim Prentice’s PC caucus last December was so disenchanting it made it easy to quit politics, he explained to the media.
“You just become a bit disillusioned with politics altogether,” said Mr. Saskiw, the MLA for Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills. “You know one day individuals are talking about keeping taxes low, not going into debt, and then the next day, they’re saying the complete opposite.”
Back in January, Mr. Saskiw told Calgary Herald political columnist Don Braid that he pulled out of negotiations with the Prentice PCs when he concluded they weren’t talking about a merger, only floor-crossings. The government, he was quoted then as saying, “wanted to wrap things up very quickly and at that point I felt uncomfortable.” (Emphasis added.) He also said he took part in the meetings because his leader, who later crossed to the Tories, asked him to, he said then.
Well, no worries. Mr. Saskiw’s wife, Shannon Stubbs, has the federal Conservative nomination to run in the Lakeland riding, which in this province means elevation to the House of Commons is a mere formality. Mr. Saskiw surely can find gainful employment practicing law in Ottawa.