The manager of Jeff Callaway’s 2017 campaign to lead the United Conservative Party was slapped with $15,000 in fines yesterday by Alberta’s Election Commissioner for “obstruction of an investigation.”
Talk about fear and loathing on the campaign trail! This strange yarn has more twists than a fairground pretzel!
From the UCP’s perspective, the party would probably be just as happy if this confusing tale hadn’t broken just now, right before an election campaign in which it hopes to defeat the NDP Government led by Premier Rachel Notley.
The campaign managed by Cameron Davies in 2017 has been widely characterized as a put-up job by UCP Leader Jason Kenney’s campaign to knock off his rival Brian Jean, the former leader of the Wildrose Party. It was described as a “Kamikaze Mission” in an audio recording of a UCP organizer discussing Mr. Callaway’s campaign that was leaked to media last December.
The idea was supposedly that Mr. Callaway would say the nasty stuff about Mr. Jean while Mr. Kenney kept a smile on his face and clean hands.
The Office of the Election Commissioner is known to have been investigating allegations the Callaway campaign was illegally funded.
Mr. Davies had his lawyer tell news media yesterday that he doesn’t know what investigation he’s supposed to have interfered in. He “specifically denies the allegations brought against him and will vigorously defend this matter going forward,” said the emailed statement by Dale Fedorchuk.
Mr. Davies will be appealing the administrative penalties to the Court of Queen’s Bench, the lawyer also said. “It is important that the public not make any conclusions or draw any inferences from the commissioner’s decision until this matter has been heard by the court.”
No sooner were the hefty fines announced than Mr. Davies was cashiered by the UCP – for which he’s apparently been working since mid-November drafting policy briefing notes. Thrown under the bus, some would say.
A statement from the party yesterday said Mr. Davies was terminated when the UCP learned from the Election Commissioner of the fines. The party statement implied that Mr. Davies had failed to inform the UCP of the investigation of his activities.
The UCP statement added piously that Mr. Davies had been asked about the investigation “proactively” because “we felt that it was important for individuals employed by or contracted to the Caucus to uphold the highest legal and ethical standards.”
Showing signs of having been drafted in a hurry, the UCP statement also said that “at no time has the Elections Commissioner contacted the UCP, the UCP Caucus, the Leader’s Office, nor the Leader’s previous Leadership Campaign.”
As for Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson, he said the legislation governing the activities of his office doesn’t permit him to say much. “There are some pretty strict confidentially requirements, non-disclosure requirements in the (legislation) that I have to respect,” he told the Edmonton Journal.
Back in 2017 when Mr. Callaway dropped out of the leadership race, despite denials from some of the principals, everyone seemed to accept the Kamikaze Campaign explanation as pretty much a given – even though the term was not yet in use.
In an Oct. 4, 2017, story by Global News, Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt explained Mr. Callaway’s role as that of a “stalking horse” for Mr. Kenney. “Originally, Derek Fildebrandt was supposed to be the attack dog for Kenney vs. Brian Jean,” Dr. Bratt confidently said.
But when Mr. Fildebrandt was sent packing by Mr. Kenney for various political sins with an explanation similar to the one given for Mr. Davies’ departure yesterday, Dr. Bratt continued, Mr. Callaway appeared to have been recruited at the last moment as Mr. Fildebrandt’s understudy.
The Global story also recounts a bizarre message sent to supporters by Mr. Callaway shortly before he dropped out of the race, accusing another party official of bullying and intimidating him, as well as conflicting comments by Mr. Callaway and Mr. Kenney about the reasons for his decision to quit. You can read the full message here.
Mr. Callaway said he decided not to continue when he realized he and Mr. Kenney had the same message. Mr. Kenney said Mr. Callaway told him “he has to make another major deposit to continue as a candidate, and financially, the support wasn’t adequate.”
“No,” said Mr. Callaway, “I had the money.”
Both Mr. Callaway and Mr. Kenney and his party officials deny the Kamikaze Campaign allegations.
Meanwhile, Mr. Jean appears to be plotting some sort of a comeback.
Whatever can it all mean?