Some days Alberta politics are like that fine old Johnny Nash song: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone …”
A lot has happened since 3 o’clock yesterday morning when the CBC broke the story the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had taken over the investigation by the Office of the Election Commissioner into what’s come to be known as the “Kamikaze Campaign” to sink Brian Jean’s candidacy to lead the United Conservative Party and ensure Jason Kenney’s victory back in 2017.
But while it’s not exactly a bright sunshiny day here yet, metaphorically speaking, it’s a lot easier to make out what Mr. Jean was up to when his smoke-making machine started churning out signals he would be ready and available in the event something happened to make Mr. Kenney’s leadership of the UCP untenable.
That something, we now know, was the revelation investigators employed by Alberta’s Election Commissioner had discovered goings on “beyond the authority” of their office that led to the direct, formal involvement of the RCMP. The obvious inference of those three little words is that Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson’s ex-police investigators discovered activities by persons as yet unknown to us that went beyond mere violations of administrative law into something much more serious.
It appears probable someone close to Mr. Jean had a clear sense of when the Mounties were going to ride into the case and saw an election-eve opportunity for the former Wildrose Party leader to seize one last chance to lead the UCP into an election, possibly even to victory.
Not uncharacteristically, Mr. Jean seems to have bungled the complicated play. Still, he was gamely trying to stay in the game, with copies of recent emails to campaign officials and even a text message to UCP puppet master Stephen Harper handed over to a well-known political columnist with a large readership.
“This is what I was afraid of,” Mr. Jean also Tweeted yesterday morning, with a link to the CBC’s story. “I wrote to @JKenney twice about this in last 3 months. Sent Harper a note. No one called me back. Nothing was done. People involved in this mess were kept on payroll and remained candidates.”
It’s certainly not good news for Mr. Kenney, a former federal MP and senior cabinet minister in Mr. Harper’s government, that the investigation is now in the hands of a powerful and disinterested federal police agency. At the very least, this is turning into a major distraction for his campaign just days, possibly even hours, before NDP Premier Rachel Notley has been expected to call an election.
Whatever the Mounties come up with, it can’t just be blown off as the work of an office created by the NDP Government that could be instantly shut down and its records shredded in the event the UCP emerges victorious. And while the mandate of the RCMP is broader than just enforcement of the Criminal Code, there is now a strong whiff of that surrounding this investigation now.
The social media pile-on by supporters of Premier Notley, plus Mr. Jean as well as other conservative politicians who have opposed Mr. Kenney’s takeover of the province’s conservative movement, was instantaneous.
Many called on Mr. Kenney throughout the day to resign. Many demanded that the election be delayed until the RCMP investigation was complete – a call that is not practical given the time police investigations can take.
In Calgary, Premier Notley termed the entry of the RCMP in to the case “very serious and troubling.”
She asked: “What would Mr. Kenney say if the shoe was on the other foot?
“I suspect he would say the allegations are serious and somebody being investigated by the RCMP on serious and documented allegations of fraud should not be premier. And you know what? He would be right.”
Mr. Kenney, of course, tried to dismiss the implications of the Mounties’ involvement, pointing out that it’s not his campaign the police are investigating. But the relationship between Jeff Callaway’s campaign – the alleged “Kamikaze Mission” – and Mr. Kenney’s successful juggernaut is obviously at the heart of this story.
The key political question about Mr. Kenney is the same as the one Senator Howard Baker, Republican of Tennessee, asked about President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate investigation in 1973: “What did he know, and when did he know it?”
Sen. Baker also famously observed that “it is almost always the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble.” That’s something for Mr. Kenney to think about.
Meanwhile, in the Politics-Makes-Strange-Bedfellows Department, Mr. Jean is now said to be advising his former caucus bad boy Derek Fildebrandt, leader of the upstart libertarian Freedom Conservative Party.
The NDP Government’s Speech from the Throne is scheduled to take place Monday afternoon. An election will have to be called soon after that if the NDP intends to stick with the un-parliamentary Progressive Conservative “fixed election period” law mandating a provincial vote before the end of May that’s still on the books.