Prab Gill asking a question in Question Period … although not Thursday’s Question Period (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Legislative Assembly video).

Calgary-Greenway MLA Prab Gill used the final Question Period of the fall 2018 session of the Alberta Legislature Thursday to allege that “more than $40,000 in very suspicious donations” was given to a United Conservative Party leadership candidate to undermine candidate Brian Jean.

Mr. Jean was the former leader of the Wildrose Party. Jason Kenney, a former federal Conservative MP and cabinet minister, was elected on March 18, 2017, as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party on a platform of uniting the two conservative parties. Throughout much of 2017 they were the two front-running candidates to lead the merged party.

Another shot of Mr. Gill, this one in focus, when he was a member of the United Conservative Party Caucus (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Acknowledging that he may not return as a member of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly after the next provincial election, Mr. Gill also alleged that “party leaders have used envelopes full of undisclosed PAC cash to interfere with the leadership contest in parties like the UCP.”

The former Progressive Conservative and United Conservative MLA was pushed out of the UCP Caucus last summer after allegations he interfered with ballots in a June 30 party nomination election in a Calgary riding. He told the Legislature Thursday the leadership candidate, whom he did not name, “attacked Brian Jean in the UCP leadership race and … ultimately endorsed the Leader of the Opposition.”

Addressing his question to Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman, Mr. Gill asked: “… given that there are rumours that this money actually came from a PAC associated with the Leader of the Opposition, can the government confirm that the Election Commissioner is investigating this PAC and these questionable donations?”

Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Ms. Hoffman, who is also health minister in the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley, responded that she could not, and urged Mr. Gill to bring his concerns to the police and elections officials.

The day before, Mr. Gill told the Legislature he had had a change of heart about his meek acceptance last July of the UCP’s demand he sit as an Independent after the party said he had taken part in ballot box stuffing in the Calgary North-East constituency. He called the UCP’s internal investigation of the circumstances a “sham,” and accused the party of “corruption and racism” for the way it treated him.

“In my weakness I caved and agreed to quietly sit as an Independent,” Mr. Gill told the House. “But by not defending myself to my fullest ability I left the impression that I had done something wrong.”

When votes in the UCP leadership race were counted on Oct. 28, 2017, there were only three candidates seeking the leadership. The third was Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who is now the party’s candidate in the Calgary-Elbow riding.

Calgary investment advisor Jeff Callaway pulled out of the race in early October and endorsed Mr. Kenney. However, in an interview with the Calgary Herald at the time, Mr. Callaway said he made no deals with Mr. Kenney before launching his campaign or deciding to withdraw.

For the most part, mainstream media in Alberta did not cover Mr. Gill’s allegations or the exchange during Question Period, although it was mentioned in a Tweet by Edmonton Journal Legislative reporter Emma Graney.

Given the media’s longstanding bad habit of not letting politicians speak for themselves, I have reproduced the entire exchange from Alberta Hansard below:

Political Action Committees

Mr. Gill: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. There is a chance that this might be my last question in this Assembly, so please bear with me. In 2015 the Premier passed laws that were supposed to take big money out of politics, but instead they introduced U.S.-style PACs that have made our politics uglier and increased the power of party leaders. Now the party leaders can use PAC money to do dirty politics and shrug their shoulders and pretend to be innocent. Is the Premier aware of reports that PACs are being directly run by Alberta political parties to hide money and get around the law?

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Ms Hoffman: No, Mr. Speaker, and certainly if the hon. Member has any evidence or information that he’d like to bring forward, I would certainly be very concerned if that were the case. I appreciate him raising this. If he has any information that could bring light to this, I think it is deeply troubling.

The Speaker: The hon. member. First supplemental.

Mr. Gill: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Party leaders and the PACs they control now call the shots, and that is not good. Given that there are rumours that the party leaders have used envelopes full of undisclosed PAC cash to interfere with the leadership contest in parties like the UCP and given that instead of clean politics we have gotten more dirty tricks than ever before, has the government asked the Election Commissioner to investigate whether PACs were involved in illegal activities in the UCP leadership race?

The Speaker: The hon. Deputy Premier.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m very proud of the race that we had. We had three fantastic leadership candidates, who ran very fair and reasonable campaigns, and I’m very proud of the kind of democracy we’ve built through a leadership campaign in our party rather than what it sounds like the hon. member is referring to. Certainly, any time people are making negative kinds of promises based on underhanded concerns, that’s very concerning to me. I certainly would welcome the hon. member to raise his concerns with the Ethics Commissioner or an elections officer.

Mr. Gill: Mr. Speaker, given that it appears that there were more than $40,000 in very suspicious donations made to a UCP leadership candidate who attacked Brian Jean in the UCP leadership race and who ultimately endorsed the Leader of the Opposition and given that there are rumours that this money actually came from a PAC associated with the Leader of the Opposition, can the government confirm that the Election Commissioner is investigating this PAC and these questionable donations?

Ms Hoffman: I can’t, Mr. Speaker. Certainly, the Election Commissioner reports to all members of this Assembly, but if the hon. member has information about that that he is hoping to highlight, I imagine it would be best to go to the Election Commissioner. We know that some people like to say, you know, that things that are alleged fraud belong with internal party mechanisms. I think that alleged fraud belongs with the police, and if there are concerns about alleged fraud in political activities, then it should be brought to the police. I think that if the hon. member has concerns about elections, then he should certainly bring those as well to the election officer.

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  1. Some may view Prab Gill’s vengeful rant as sour grapes, but as a conservative insider Gill had a front-row seat and first-hand knowledge of all the sleaze politics and the ham-fisted antics of its leader and the party, both before and after the PC/Wildrose merger.

    Recent media reports concerning candidate nominee races, and other incidental UCP dumpster fire antics revealed this week, apparently validate much of what Gill told the legislature. “Instead of clean politics we have gotten more dirty tricks than ever before…,” Gill protested. Earlier in the week, Gill lamented, “The Tory elite bosses of today are as bad as they have ever been.”

    Calls for an early election by the UCP leader and his sycophantic minions just may be the last-gasp strategy they need to distract would-be voters and put an end to their on-going marathon of bozo-eruptions—before more cringe-worthy details emerge amongst the clatter of those endless nomination meetings. With former friends like Prab Gill telling all, the UCP might just not make it over the electoral finish line in first place. Is it possible that the UCP is in panic mode? I’m sensing desperation here, folks.

    1. I think “last gasp” for the UCP is symptomatic of a broader moribundity among ‘parties of the right’ everywhere in the Western World. This decline is, IMHO, a rebuke of neoliberal-usurped traditional conservative parties which ruled for much of the last four decades, turning away from the Tory mores they originally campaigned with into something decidedly not conservative (which is why I refer to them as “neo-right” rather than “neo-con”).

      Even though half the Canadian provinces now have neo-right governments—three newly elected—I rather look at most of them as being in the final throes, not all so dramatically as the Trump-poisoned Republicans and D’ohFo-usurped Ontario ‘Progressive Conservatives’ perhaps, but all typically appealing to increasingly extremist elements in palpable desperation as moderate conservatives—real Tories—attrit or leave, eventually wearing out the neo-right’s welcome in these mostly welcoming, multi-cultural jurisdictions (we tend to forget that Germany, whose pro-rep elected parliament has taken a sharp turn because far-right parties won the balance of power, has still welcomed by far the most immigrants and refugees of any EU nation). The last, desperate, neo-right gasp is typically one of barely veiled xenophobia and racism all gussied up in pouch-piping slogans like “freedom of [Christian-right] worship,” “keep your earnings in your own pocket [not taxed by ‘Big Governemnt’ to spend on immigrants who take your jobs],” “right to work [for union-free, neo-right employers],” et cetera. Thus I think of D’ohFo as the final nail in Ontario’s Progressive Conservative coffin, Trump in the Republicans’ coffin, May in the UK’s Tory coffin, and so forth.

      The basic neo-right startegy is to get the sabotage of government power to tax and regulate private industry done before being outed, and have these sabotages well armoured to prevent subsequent governments from undoing them once voters have twigged and turfed the neo-rightists. Emboldened by short, right-wing think-tank courses supposed to be effective in parrying with leftie intelligencia, and by the fortuitous bankruptcy-sales of mainstream media outlets then turned into effective propaganda arms, the neo-rightists, despite their initial meteoric successes have, without exception, gotten tripped up by the unacknowledged depth of reality, then gotten outed as fiscal charlatans bent on bankrupting government instead of steering it prudently, then gotten caught scrambling to overhastily complete the neo-right strategy as electoral defeat looms, fighting an increasingly nasty rear-guard that eventually seals their fate. In short, symptoms of inevitable decline and fall.

      I agree: KeKKenney is attempting such a last gasp, although I bet he thinks he’s ploughing fertile territory to affect lessons he learned from his old boss, Harper: co-opt a punch-drunk, divided conservative polity, spice it up with populist ardour to disguise neo-right sabotage of government’s capacity to tax and regulate private industry—which should be substantially completed, irreversibly, before the electorate is even been apprised of, let alone approved it. It’s true Alberta’s conservative convulsion appears to be, in miniature, like Canada’s a decade before when Harper neatly (and treacherously) rolled up the smashed federal PCs and split Alliance Party to form the CPC, usurping the brand name in typical neo-right fashion. But there are significant differences, too, not least that the soil KeKKennery wants to plough in Alberta isn’t near as virginal as he might like.

      I think he’s suffering under an illusion that schisms of the Alberta right offer fresh opportunity with a potential ten-year window to inoculate the province from socialist ideas and protect petro-profits from both taxes and their worst nightmare: remediation of environmental hazards issuing from current and decommissioned drilling, fracking, mining and smelting operations. But a SoCon, at root, lusting to repeat a bygone (real) Tory era by neo-right means more discredited now than they were in Harper’s salad days, relying more heavily on even more particularist factions of the right—a notably nonurban white-right— in a province that has moved appreciably in the opposite direction since then, should, I think, find the going much more difficult than the cake-walk coronation the K-man presumed it would be.

      As well, KeKKenney, we recall, had once considered Alberta the better prospect than the federal party in which he was once a powerful government minister: given the damning, extremist gong-show the post-Harper leadership convention turned out to be, he was smart to get the hell out. But I think, in addition to neo-rightism being more obviously in decline and associated with extremism, he’s finding Alberta has changed substantially during his absence, and indulging in his SoCon roots to compensate —now without being sidelined like Harper did anti-abortionists to further his own, purely neo-right ends—is causing more headaches than he probably ever expected, his faith thought so powerful but apparently also blinding.

      Yeah, I can see panic setting in. The prospect was always desperate, though.

  2. My, oh my. “ …In 2015 the Premier passed laws that were supposed to take big money out of politics, but instead they introduced U.S.-style PACs that have made our politics uglier and increased the power of party leaders… “ First, of course, the Premier passed no such laws; the Legislative Assembly did. We live in a parliamentary democracy… Premiers don’t rule by decree.

    Secondly, they didn’t “introduce” PACs to Alberta; they simply refused to engage in a quixotic but ultimately futile attempt to ban them despite the likelihood the courts would protect them on Charter grounds. Citizens United may have been a US case, but the courts in Canada would more than likely have struck down any ban on “third-party advertisers” that went beyond “reasonable limits”. The legislation passed by Alberta probably goes as far as it can and still be reasonably Charter-proof.

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