Alberta Politics
Then UCP leadership candidates Jason Kenney and Jeff Callaway in happier times (Photo: Facebook).

More questions than answers in last week’s fallout from 2017 UCP leadership campaign

Posted on July 21, 2019, 2:35 am
8 mins

Eight Alberta United Conservative Party MLAs, five of them cabinet ministers, now admit they’ve been interviewed by the RCMP in the federal police force’s ongoing investigation into the curious goings on during the party’s 2017 leadership race, from which Premier Jason Kenney emerged victorious.

Every time another UCP Caucus member is interviewed by the Mounties, the party or the MLA in question issues a statement stating that the he or she is not under investigation.

Alberta Elections Commissioner Lorne Gibson (Photo: Office of the Election Commissioner).

This begs an obvious question: Who is?

Someone must be, else the national police force, facing budget restrictions like everyone else nowadays, wouldn’t be investigating, would they?

Much has been made of the fact this continuing police investigation doesn’t appear to have made a dent on public approval of Mr. Kenney’s UCP government, elected in April. True enough, but this ought not really to be a surprise. It will only be when the $64,000 Question is answered that most voters will decide whether it should have an impact on how they view the governing party.

In the mean time, without additional information, it would hardly be fair to draw a connection between whatever is being investigated by the Mounties and Mr. Kenney’s victory or the loss of his principal rival, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean.

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Regardless, it seems as if it would be a good idea from the UCP’s perspective either to get this over with immediately or try to stall it past the federal election this fall. Since they’ve heard the investigators’ questions, they’re bound to have a somewhat better idea than the rest of us of where this is headed.

Certainly they wouldn’t want a story that makes them look crooked to break just before the October election, in which all provincial Conservative governing parties appear to be toiling mightily to elect Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer as prime minister of Canada, giving them a crack at reopening the Canadian Constitution to their advantage.

Mr. Scheer is already having a problem living down the recent depredations of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whose Progressive Conservative government is on hiatus from governing in order to avoid further embarrassments blowing up their federal brethren’s campaign. (This has forced Mr. Scheer to come up with his own embarrassments, which doesn’t seem to have been a problem. Consider his declaration to a group of dairy farmers that Canada’s Food Guide is the product of liberal ideology, not science. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, perhaps the result of having Gerald Butts back on his campaign team, was pretty feisty in response.)

Culture Minister Leela Aheer (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The Mounties, meanwhile, with their Alberta investigation now overseen by an unnamed Ontario prosecutor, are moving at their own stately pace. Perhaps they’ll tip off the news media when its time for a raid, as they’ve been known to do in the past.

So far, they are known to have interviewed Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer, Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda, Culture Minister Leela Aheer, Seniors and Housing Minister Josephine Pon, Associate Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jason Luan, Cardston-Siksika MLA Joseph Schow, Sherwood Park MLA Jordan Walker and Calgary-East MLA Peter Singh. Mr. Singh’s Calgary auto body repair shop was also searched by police, who carted off computer equipment.

NDP Ethics Critic Heather Sweet (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In the same time frame this story was unfolding, the Office of the Election Commissioner announced fines totalling $70,000 had been levied on former UCP leadership contender Jeff Callaway for two dozen campaign finance infractions.

So far, Commissioner Lorne Gibson’s staff has levied fines of $168,350, against various participants in Mr. Callaway’s “Kamikaze” campaign, so known because it was supposedly intended to sink Mr. Jean’s leadership hopes in a way that let Mr. Kenney keep his paws clean.

This led NDP Ethics Critic Heather Sweet last week to demand Premier Kenney throw Mr. Callaway and his campaign team out of the party. “The sheer scale of illegal behaviour inside the UCP is truly disgraceful, and it reveals a culture of corruption,” she stated.

Mr. Kenney denies any involvement.

Former Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen (Photo: IowaPolitics.com, Creative Commons).

As for Mr. Gibson, who was appointed by the NDP, the UCP are not fans. Doubtless Mr. Kenney would love to send him packing, if only he could think up with a decent excuse that didn’t make it look like he was trying to derail an ongoing investigation. It’s thought Mr. Gibson’s staff played a role in persuading the RCMP to launch its independent investigation, although exactly what the Mounties are investigating is not clear. Presumably they are interested in more serious infractions than violations of mere election finance regulations.

If anyone ends up being charged as a result of the Mounties’ inquiries — and there’s no way of knowing at this point if that will happen — it seems likely the UCP leadership will disavow them completely, a political phenomenon known as being tossed under the wheels of a bus.

With all this stuff swirling around, the recent example of Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, who sang like a canary in similar circumstances, must make the UCP and CPC strategic brain trusts as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. (No more cat-and-canary metaphors — Ed.)

Indeed, why someone isn’t already singing is yet another interesting outstanding question. Unless, of course, somebody is.

7 Comments to: More questions than answers in last week’s fallout from 2017 UCP leadership campaign

  1. Bob Raynard

    July 21st, 2019

    Will someone, or some organization, be providing the funds for these fines to be paid? My guess is that is how the silence will be acquired.

    Reply
  2. Bob Raynard

    July 21st, 2019

    “Canada’s Food Guide is the product of liberal ideology, not science.”

    Stephen Harper muzzled climate scientists – will Andrew Scheer muzzle food scientists?

    That pesky science stuff is such an irritant to conservatives. No wonder they want to encourage young people to go into the trades.

    Reply
  3. John T

    July 21st, 2019

    There is a real probability that Kenney is the premier by virtue of a corrupt process…a really corrupt process. What is the end game is the investigations find that is the case? Can he be removed from office?

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      July 21st, 2019

      Short of a jail term or vote of non-confidence, I believe the answer is NO. DJC

      Reply
  4. J.E. Molnar

    July 21st, 2019

    You’d have to be pretty, pretty naïve as a voter not to see the links to the Jason Kenney and the Jeff Callaway campaigns.

    Voters who actually drill down will uncover a plethora of sordid evidence that points to a Kenney/Callaway conspiracy to deny Brian Jean the UCP leadership — UCP denials notwithstanding. Let’s hope the RCMP cracks the case soon. If I hear no collusion and no obstruction one more time from any politician, I’m going to start screaming into a brown paper bag.

    Reply
  5. David Grant

    July 21st, 2019

    While I think that the NDP is right to pursue this scandal, I hope that they don’t make the mistake that many fear that the Democrats are making in pitting their hopes of Russiagate to bring down the Republicans. While character and ethics are important, it is clear that most people don’t vote on these issues alone. If that were the case, the fortunes of Rachel Notley and Hillary Clinton would be very different. I think that they need to work on opposing the policies of Jason Kenney and work to build public support for their alternatives.

    Reply
  6. Jerrymacgp

    July 21st, 2019

    “Canada’s national police” … true, technically, but (no doubt unintentionally) somewhat misleading and incomplete. Remember, that in 7½ of Canada’s provinces—i.e. everywhere except Ontario, Quebec & those parts of Newfoundland & Labrador policed by the RNC—the RCMP has essentially been contracted by the provincial government to serve as the provincial police force, to police those parts of those provinces that do not have their own municipal police forces. As such, they are answerable to and funded by the provinces’ Solicitors-General, and not really to the federal government in Ottawa. Their jurisdiction in the provinces where they are so employed extends not only to investigating alleged Criminal Code offences, but to matters that involve purely provincial laws, from liquor control and gaming regulations to election laws.

    So, just because the RCMP is investigating this affair, does not ipso facto mean that there must be some criminal offence at the root of the matter.

    Reply

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