Jason Kenney then and now (Illustration: Press Progress).

Public anger at politicians who bill taxpayers for their living expenses when in reality they live close to their work is nothing new in Alberta.

Abusive attacks on their critics, up to and including death threats, are new.

St. Albert MLA and municipal affairs minister Dick Fowler outside his constituency office in 1990 (Photo: St. Albert Musée Héritage Museum).

Back in April 1992, Progressive Conservative municipal affairs minster Dick Fowler, who was then the MLA for St. Albert, economic development minister Peter Elzinga, MLA for Sherwood Park, and Wetaskiwin-Leduc MLA Don Sparrow were discovered by enterprising journalists to have received tens of thousands of dollars in living expenses when their ridings were only about 30 minutes from the Legislature.

In the 1990-91 fiscal year, the three MLAs together billed the Alberta Legislature almost $60,000 for apartments in Edmonton, according to press reports. In 1991-92, Ministers Fowler and Elzinga together billed more than $40,000. Mr. Fowler’s apartment was said to have been used by a family member who was attending the University of Alberta.

Their defence at the time? No rules were broken.

The public’s reaction was not positive. But the journalists who uncovered the story and the taxpayer advocate who criticized the politicians relentlessly suffered nothing like the vituperation heaped upon Kyle Morrow, the Alberta-born Ottawa lawyer who used public records to show that while he was an MP, United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney declared his Ottawa condo to be his secondary residence, thereby qualifying for more than $10,000 a year in public housing subsidies.

Sherwood Park MLA and economic development minister Peter Elzinga (Photo: Government of Alberta).

Indeed, Mr. Morrow appears to have parted ways yesterday with the International law firm that employed him in Ottawa. His biography page has now disappeared from the website of Fasken LLP. He did not respond a to a query about his employment status. This suggests a chilling message has been sent to anyone who opposes Mr. Kenney about what can happen if you open your mouth.

In the spring of 1992, by contrast, stories in the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal gleefully reported that the Tory ministers were “living a double standard” when they accepted public subsidies for apartments they didn’t need while the government said the province couldn’t afford to help people living in poverty with the cost of decent housing.

The Alberta Legislature’s rules at the time allowed MLAs from outside Edmonton to bill more than $22,000 a year for living expenses in the city. No receipts were required.

The head of an organization then identified as the Association of Alberta Taxpayers demanded an independent inquiry into the payments. Messrs. Fowler and Elzinga were “their own worst enemies,” he asserted.

Progressive Conservative premier Don Getty (Photo: Government of Alberta)

“The poverty level in Edmonton is roughly $14,000 a year, and they’re giving themselves $20,000 a year just to get by in Edmonton,” he told the Edmonton Journal. “You can rent a top-level apartment in this town for $600 a month.”

“It just destroys their credibility.”

When Premier Don Getty, under pressure from an angry public, promised an investigation by the Legislature’s all-party Member Services Committee, the AAT leader scoffed, saying getting MLAs to investigate MLA expenses was like “asking the fox to guard the henhouse.”

The way the subsidies were handed out, he told the Calgary Herald, “it’s an incentive for the MLA to abuse it.”

And who was the AAT spokesperson treated so respectfully by the Edmonton Journal’s reporter, Joan Crockatt, herself later a one-term Conservative MP in Ottawa?

He was a young fellow named Jason Kenney!

Yeah, that Jason Kenney.

Lawyer Kyle Morrow (Photo: Fasken LLP).

Mr. Kenney was never assailed by the Journal or the Herald for criticizing MLAs’ housing subsidies, as Mr. Morrow was by Licia Corbella, and other “leftists” and “scandalmongers” were by Rick Bell. Ms. Corbella and Mr. Bell are both political columnists in Postmedia’s now-combined Sun-Herald news operation in Calgary.

But that was then and this is now. In 1992, the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald, where I then worked, were both excellent regional newspapers that covered events in a thoroughly professional manner.

Appearing on a CBC radio program on Tuesday, Mr. Kenney used the same defence for his Ottawa subsidies as Ministers Fowler and Elzinga did in 1992. “I was fully compliant with all the rules,” he said. “That was confirmed for me by my pay and benefits advisor in the House of Commons administration.”

Mr. Kenney also emphasized the UCP talking points now repeated robotically by media. “I’m sorry that all this has become politicized. My mom has been dragged into this. I thought I was doing the right thing …”

To receive the public subsidy, Mr. Kenney required the Calgary address to be his primary residence because House of Commons rules forbid MPs to rent their secondary residences from a relative, employee or House of Commons employee. The rules are silent on who must own their primary residence.

The three Tory ministers in 1992 were more contrite when they were being criticized by Mr. Kenney than Mr. Kenney is now. While no rules had been broken, their voters were outraged, and all three gave up their allowances soon after the stories appeared.

Stan Woloshyn, then the NDP MLA for Stony Plain, also minutes from Edmonton, grumbled that he would give up the allowance only until the committee had reported. However, Mr. Woloshyn solved his problems with angry voters by crossing the floor of the Legislature the next year to join the Conservatives, in whose caucus he sat for 11 years.

As for Mr. Kenney’s current protests that he has done nothing wrong – indeed, that he was just looking out for his elderly parents and anyone who says otherwise is attacking his widowed mom – one is reminded of the words of the 11th century Persian astronomer and poet Omar Khayyam, as famously translated by Edward FitzGerald:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

There’s no need to accuse Mr. Kenney of sanctimonious hypocrisy.

The man speaks for himself.

Join the Conversation


  1. “This (Mr. Morrow’s disappearance) suggests a chilling message has been sent to anyone who opposes Mr. Kenney about what can happen if you open your mouth.” Obviously the power boys in Edmonton and Ottawa are hell bent on getting Rachel Notley out of the premier’s office. A progressive Alberta will be poorer for it.

  2. Thank you for reminding Albertans of this piece of history and pointing out the dramatic change in Alberta’s mainstream newspaper reaction to entitlements, even as the excuses for it remain the same.

  3. David, great story! Again I have little hope that it will be emulated, or even copied, by Alberta’s toothless four-headed Postmedia newshound. On another note, I do suspect the move by Faskens to remove Mr. Morrow’s profile was to protect its own servers from the UPC rage machine. The web site of the Law Society of Ontario (formerly, and quaintly the Law Society of Upper Canada) still shows Mr. Morrow as a lawyer in good standing with the Faskens office in Ottawa.

  4. The drooling half-wits are becoming more of a problem. We see them herein occasionally where every thurd word is misspelt and one cannot keep up with their rambling complaints and threats.
    Social media, which is neither social nor media, gives these mouth-breathing cowards and bullies a way to puff and bloviate without any personal responsibility. Even more worryingly is the elevation of such white trash to high political office. Actions of elected politicians that are ignorant, self-serving or even unlawful seem to be acceptable as long as the fan club is loud enough and boisterous enough.
    We have always had, and frankly, a strong democracy requires that we continue to have, a full spectrum of character types running for and elected to political office. However, we also had a strong and meaningful tradition of adhering to the highest character traits. Even if one could not always attain that highest aspiration, failure to even consider it meant immediate dismissal.
    I’m afraid that idea seems quaint today. The ‘deplorables’ will just follow the example set by their leadership, to the greater loss of us all.

    1. Yeah, they want them out but have no reason for it except they think Kenney will magically correct global momentum towards less fossil fuel use. He has provided next to nothing for voters to vote for except who he is not. Notley is the best premier this province has had since Lougheed and those who would vote her out do so because the fossil fuel industry is dying.

      If they get their wish they will be continuing to cry into their beer but will now do so with worse health care and education services. JK will enact austerity and that sure worked for Klein.

    2. So being a crook is OK, so long as they’re UCP crooks? That’s what you’re saying. Dumb gets what dumb deserves, so King Jason will soon give you lower rung brainwashed peons all the wonderfulness and thanks in kind you can handle. Enjoy the anticipation. The reality is unlikely to be much fun.

  5. Ah, Jason Kenney, the choir boy for hot air and bluster. He’s got his minions doing the attacks for him, so he can pretend he is taking the high road…..

  6. The Kenney calamity —yes obsequious UCP Postmedia scribes are in a scribbling frenzy. Right Wing Nut Jobs are threatening Kyle Morrow and the current iteration of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is silent on the matter — nothing but crickets from Scott Hennig. Hennig is the current head honcho, who prefers to attack Alberta’s third-party advertising election law instead of his bosom buddy, Jason Kenney. How screwed up is that?

    You really begin to realize how insane all this Kenneysplaining is from the right when just four years ago Alberta voters kicked the arrogant, entitled, privileged Tories to the curb for misdeeds that bordered on outright corruption and untethered cronyism. Alberta is frighteningly beginning to look more and more like Trumpland, for reasons that have become obvious in recent days. Let’s just hope nothing untoward ever happens on 5th Avenue.

  7. The UCP and Kenney’s flunkies seem to have fairly successfully squelched this scandal for now, at least in the media outlets that are the fairly reliably supportive of the UCP, but I have a feeling this clever (or desperate) strategy is like putting a lid on a simmering pot. It may be under control for now, but the underlying troubling issues are still there and really haven’t been resolved. There have been a number of political columns in the last few days, particularly in post media papers saying this is no big deal and some even hysterically attacking Kenney’s critics for daring to criticize him – this is Alberta, how dare anyone criticize King wannabe Kenney! Sadly for these columnists and papers, I think this will mostly just further diminish and undermine their credibility, which is already shaky, particularly in Calgary where the papers and the best pollsters they could buy seemed determined to influence the last mayoral race, failed badly and got a lot of egg on their face.

    I think all but the most fervent supporters of the UCP will be somewhat troubled by Kenney’s residence claims. Yes the rules around these claims are both detailed in some aspects and ambiguous in others, but the central issue is really easy enough for anyone to understand – Did Kenney fictitiously claim to live in his mothers seniors housing complex in order to get a housing allowance and, also for political reasons, claim his Ottawa residence was not his primary residence?

    Kenney may forcefully argue that “no rules were broken”, even though that seniors housing complex apparently does not allow sublease arrangements like the type Kenney appears to have claimed. However, this is as much or perhaps more an ethical than a legal issue. In the end Mike Duffy wasn’t found legally guilty of anything either, but the Federal Conservatives sure suffered for him claiming a housing allowance where the public felt he should not get it.

    If the UCP and its more fervent supporters think Kenney can get away with this because they are comfortably ahead in the polls now, they should remember not too long ago one their predecessor parties became very arrogant in taking Alberta voters for granted. In the end Alberta voters issued their verdict on all of that party’s ethically questionable behavior and it wasn’t favorable for that party.

  8. $10,000 for living expenses is piddly, as compared to the Jail Time and Financial penalties Jason kenney has ADMITTED to, by saying during this period he claimed an Albertan Health card while in fact Living Full Time in Ottawa! Remember the stink Conservative provincial governments made about health card fraud? The Rules and the Penalties they created? Well guess what, under those same rules… jason kenney has admitted under his Unite Alberta twitter account that he maintained an Alberta health card, even though evidence suggests he never COMPLIED with the RULES as posted on Alberta Government web page, Look it up. LOCK HIM UP!

  9. Good article. The problem is (right or wrong) that it reeks of Political opportunism; I wish it had come out earlier. As far as Corbella being a “Political Columnist”? I disagree. She’s so ridiculous, I’m not entirely sure how to define what she does.

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