With an investigation by the Alberta Elections Commissioner under way into allegations of irregularities in the United Conservative Party’s conduct of its nomination vote in the Highwood Constituency last fall, the winning candidate published a statement Friday admitting he was convicted and fined for failing to provide a breathalyzer sample 17 years ago.
In the statement published on Facebook, RJ Sigurdson said he also failed to show up for his first court date, and in addition to the fine was given a six-month driving licence suspension.
The UCP candidate framed his admission as a response to “attempts underway by our opponents to smear my character and embarrass my family in the lead-up to the spring election.”
But the timing of the posts may have had as much to do with the season, an excellent time of year to fulfill an obligation to make embarrassing revelations in the reasonable hope they will be missed or forgotten by voters.
Another factor in the timing may be the need to settle down prominent Conservative supporters in the riding south of Calgary. Mr. Sigurdson is a relative by marriage of George Groenveld, Progressive Conservative MLA for the riding from 2004 to 2012 and minister of agriculture in the government of Ed Stelmach. So it’s possible the family has been embarrassed by the controversy in the community over reports of irregularities in the Oct. 16 vote.
Local sources say information about Mr. Sigurdson’s long-ago conviction and its circumstances was included in a confidential disclosure to UCP officials, among whom he is known to have many supporters, and discussed at a closed-door meeting. However, the information seems never to have been shared with the riding’s party members in advance of their vote.
Regardless, the Opposition UCP accepted Mr. Sigurdson’s statement with equanimity, providing a link to it yesterday with a note that generously said, “We accept that a person can make mistakes in their past, and can grow from those mistakes,”
A large number of comments on UCP social media accounts took a similar forgiving tone, praising Mr. Sigurdson for his courage owning up to past conflict with the law, noting that we have all made mistakes, and even quoting the Gospel story of the woman taken in adultery: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
“Oh that we could all go back and erase some of our foolish youth,” posted Wendy Adam, who played a prominent role in Mr. Sigurdson’s campaign as well as being a key organizer for Jeff Callaway’s controversial UCP leadership campaign in 2017. “You did not hide it, you have owned it.”
A Tweet by Sonia Kont said in part, “I’m glad he has the courage to address his past mistakes. Not always easy.” Ms. Kont is a senior consultant for New West Public Affairs, the research and public relations firm founded by former Medicine Hat MP and Harper Government cabinet minister Monte Solberg. She acted as spokesperson for a rally in Grande Prairie organized by the mysteriously funded Canada Action Coalition earlier this month.
One wonders, though, if these UCP supporters would have been as forgiving if the charges, old as they were, had involved a candidate for the NDP Government, or even another UCP candidate for the same nomination.
Mr. Sigurdson’s statement said in part: “I will be the first to admit that I have made mistakes in the past. I am imperfect and I am real. But, over the years, I have grown to become a better man, husband and human being, committed to learning from my mistakes.”
His post continued: “When I first contacted the party to express interest in seeking the nomination, I disclosed that over 17 years ago I was convicted of refusing to provide a breathalyzer sample and that I also failed to attend my first court date. As a result of my foolish actions, I paid a fine and had my license suspended for 6 months. While this all occurred some time ago, I want everyone to know that I still take full responsibility for my actions and I’ve learned from this mistake.”
“I am not proud of this incident and have grown a great deal since then. Since that time, I have gotten married and have raised three wonderful children,” he said. “I have used this life lesson to help educate others so they can avoid the same mistake I made.”
Mr. Sigurdson defeated a sitting MLA, Wayne Anderson, for the nomination. Mr. Anderson, first elected as a Wildrose candidate, has filed a formal complaint with the Elections Commissioner seeking an investigation into the conduct of the Oct. 16 party nomination vote.
Mr. Anderson told local media he complained to the party before going to the Elections Commissioner.
Another candidate in the same nomination contest also complained about irregularities, and later make bitter remarks to local media about how she was blown off by the party. Carrie Fischer, who ran as the Progressive Conservative candidate in the riding in 2015, said she didn’t get even “the respect of a proper investigation.”
For its part, UCP officials say they reviewed the candidates’ complaints and found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Ms. Adam, who is quoted above, also played a prominent role in the recent controversy about UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway’s 2017 “Kamikaze run” at then-Wildrose leader Brian Jean to ensure the election of Jason Kenney as UCP leader. Hers has been identified as the voice on the audio clip leaked earlier this month in which three people could be heard discussing the “Kamikaze” effort by the former Wildrose Party president. “Jeff will be able to say things about Brian Jean that Jason Kenney cannot,” says the voice.
Just before Christmas, media in Edmonton reported that the Office of Elections Commissioner Lorne Gibson had hired a retired Edmonton Police Service detective with a background in investigating fraud to look into allegations Mr. Callaway’s campaign was illegally funded.
Reports now suggest the Office of the Elections Commissioner is pushing hard on the investigation, and that a second retired detective, a former Calgary Police Service white-collar crimes investigator, has also been engaged to take part.
The leaked snippet of Ms. Adam’s conversation is said to come from a much-longer recording of the conversation, about 90 minutes in all. So there’s always the possibility of more interesting tidbits becoming public in the New Year!