Alberta Politics
Soon-to-be-departed Alberta Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson (Photo: Office of the Election Commissioner).

If you’re shocked by the firing of Alberta’s Election Commissioner, you shouldn’t be

Posted on November 19, 2019, 1:21 am
7 mins

If you’re shocked that Jason Kenney’s Government has effectively just fired the guy who’s been investigating the sleazy Kamikaze Campaign that preceded the premier’s choice as leader of the United Conservative Party in 2017, you really haven’t been paying attention.

Alberta’s best-known political commentator is so shocked…

How shocked is he? …

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Yesterday Don Braid, the Calgary Herald’s venerable political columnist, called the mechanism to fire Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson buried in Bill 22, which will become the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act as soon as the UCP Caucus finishes rushing it through the Legislature, “a genuine gasping shocker.”

That it is not. Indeed, the only shock — mild surprise, more like — is that the UCP didn’t do this sooner, like weeks after the April 16 election that brought Mr. Kenney and the UCP to power, before Mr. Gibson had the opportunity to levy $210,000 in fines on various bad actors involved the UCP leadership race.

As was said in this space January 2018, well before the election that brought the UCP to power, “if the government changes after the general election expected very soon, there can be no confidence a new government would not shut down the investigation for fear of what it might find.”

And as I observed in July, Mr. Kenney clearly wanted to send Mr. Gibson packing as soon as possible, “if only he could think up a decent excuse that didn’t make it look like he was trying to derail an ongoing investigation.”

Is the perceived need to consolidate government offices, then underfund the one that’s left, a good enough excuse? Any old port in a storm! So, no, this is not exactly a gasping shocker.

Alberta Opposition Leader and former premier Rachel Notley (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Most of the folks fined by the Office of the Election Commissioner for various campaign shenanigans seem to have been involved in the effort by a Jeff Callaway’s leadership campaign to bring down Mr. Kenney’s chief competitor, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, while the future premier kept his paws clean. It’s come to be known as a Kamikaze campaign because it was intended to self-destruct the instant it had immolated Mr. Jean’s ambitions.

But unless you believe there’s something to guilt by association, Mr. Kenney himself has managed to escape suspicion. Still, you can’t be too careful, which is why, of course, the government is now moving ahead on might alternatively be called an Act to Rid Me of That Meddlesome Election Commissioner.

The government says the investigations started by Mr. Gibson and his staff after the NDP government set up the Office of the Election Commissioner to enforce its election financing laws will continue. If you believe that, you are probably one of the nice people who are shocked, just shocked that the unit is about to be shut down and its boss given his walking papers.

As for Finance Minister Travis Toews’s risible claim this is only being done to save money, I doubt anybody believes that. Naturally, opponents of the government are offended. Opposition Leader Rachel Notley called itan historic abuse of power in Alberta, one that is corrupt.” But the government’s supporters simply won’t care. They’ll think, with some historical perspective, that this is the way we’ve always done politics in Alberta.

Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

As for Mr. Gibson, he knows the drill. He’s been skidded by Alberta Conservatives before, the last time in 2009 when the Progressive Conservatives declined to renew his contract as Chief Electoral Officer for taking his duties too seriously for their tastes.

Unfortunately for Mr. Kenney, early on Mr. Gibson or someone on his staff alerted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a parallel investigation by the federal police force of voter fraud during the leadership race is continuing.

There is nothing certain UCP insiders can do about that except cross their fingers, lawyer up, and plot the creation of a provincial police force to replace the RCMP. Not that anyone would dare to suggest that … oh, wait!

Meanwhile, lost in the smoke and mirrors, other bad stuff

Meanwhile, while everyone focused on the preparation of Mr. Gibson for the skids, there are other goodies in Bill 22. Among them:

  • It will allow political parties to merge — specifically, the UCP and the old Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties, which the UCP kept around on the books while they figured out how to get the substantial sums of cash held by PC constituency associations into the UCP’s coffers. The question mainstream reporters should be asking is this: Will the UCP pay off the PCs’ outstanding debts?
  • Transfer of the investments in the better performing Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund to the Crown-owned Alberta Investment Management Corp., better known as AIMCo, which could open the door to government fingers dipping into teachers’ retirement savings.
  • Reversing the long promised and only recently delivered pension independence of such public sector plans as the Local Authorities Pension Plan and the Public Service Pension Plan, a possible first step toward dismantling defined-benefit pension plans for public employees, a long-time goal of the UCP’s corporate backers.

14 Comments to: If you’re shocked by the firing of Alberta’s Election Commissioner, you shouldn’t be

  1. Dave

    November 19th, 2019

    So Mr. Braid is shocked by this, surely he must be kidding! I am sure he has been around long enough to have seen the movie Cassablanca, where the police commisionaire was “shocked” to discover gambling going on in Rick’s cafe. Well, just think of Alberta Conservatives like the characters in Rick’s cafe, except without the hollywood glamour. They have been gambling with our money for a long time and the insiders are usually the winners, the rest of us not so much.

    It was really just a question of how and when this would happen. Unfortunately, we don’t have the division of powers like our southern neighbours, so a majority government can get away with a lot without much independent oversight. It was only when people began to think perhaps the PC’s days were numbered that a lot of things they thought they had buried very deep somehow came back up to bite them.

    Unfortunately, for Mr. Kenney the RCMP are not under his control, at least not yet, so the troublesome investigations may go on. You would think the most politically astute thing to do would have been to just leave the commissioner alone. He found a number of things, but nothing to tie in Kenney so far. Perhaps there was a sense he was getting closer to something more damaging or just a worry that he might. However firing him is probably only going to make some dig harder. It could be a big mistake.

    Reply
    • Just Me

      November 20th, 2019

      When has Don Braid ever been a credible journalist?

      He’s a spineless partisan opinion hack, who’s quickly approaching the end of his dubious career. I recall starting to read his pandering drivel a decade ago and he’s never shown even one iota of interest in being objective.

      At least he’ll go out wrapped in a vortex of his own nonsense. I have a feeling he wouldn’t have it any other way.

      Reply
  2. J.E. Molnar

    November 19th, 2019

    Albertans who subscribe to the rule of law should feel a profound sense of moral outrage and political disgust today.

    Orchestrating a cover-up, deep-sixing an on-going investigation and lying to the good citizens of Alberta about it clearly raises a red flag over the UCP’s moral authority to govern. Jason Kenney and his leadership style came as advertised — divisive and polarizing. Now we can add sleazy, sordid and shameful to his political legacy. Where is that “recall” legislation the conservatives were promising in their election platform, when you need it?

    Reply
  3. Jim

    November 19th, 2019

    Interesting to see how this plays out, the RCMP is not above political influence but the Conservatives aren’t in power federally anymore. Usually the path taken is to stop the investigation from starting like in the case of the KPMG tax evasion scam. Although that could be considered bipartisan as KPMG audits Morneau’s books so has the goods on him.

    Reply
  4. Liz

    November 19th, 2019

    Don Braid needs to wipe his glasses, if he couldn’t see this one coming. It’s just more of his right wing leaning, as shown by his column defending the expenses of David Knight Legg last weekend.

    Regarding Doug Schweitzer, how come he is never mentioned, along with Callaway, in the Kamikaze Campaign? Frankly, he hadn’t a hope in hell of ever winning. Then today we read of his sleazy involvements with Steve Allan.

    There appears to be no limit to the incestuous relationships within the UCP.

    Reply
  5. Athabascan

    November 19th, 2019

    There is a theory in political science that holds “We get the government we deserve.”

    Remember folks, we have another 3 1/2 years of this to endure – pace yourselves.

    Reply
  6. Just Me

    November 19th, 2019

    I am not surprised by this at all. And given Kenney’s propensity for shenanigans of every description, should anyone be surprised?

    He is an angry little man, who wants things his own way all the time, ethics, or legalities, or decency be damned. No wonder he’s still single, but I digress.

    So how far can one expect this toxicity to go? Honestly, there is no limit now. Kenney and his UCP fellow travellers know that not only are they above any moral compass, they are not beneath using any means, any threat, to get their own way.

    What else one expect of the punk, Kenney? Who knows? And possibly, who cares?

    But he’s not positioned well. Thankful the Liberals can count on the support of literate and intelligent among the BQ caucus. Even the BQ leader, Yves-François Blanchet, had the brass to see through Kenney’s short man tantrum and told him he goes to the back of the line – if he gets to stand in the line at all. Stupid Alberta chose a stupid angry INCEL as their premier; they deserve all the hatred and hardship that can be dished out. And I ‘m please that Trudeau stood there, his usual smug self, while Blanchet ripped up Kenney. Trudeau couldn’t do it, but he found a reliable and credible allies in Yves-François Blanchet and the BQ.

    Kenney can now bolt Alberta’s unfolding hellscape, try to take out Scheer, and claim his birthright when he enters the PMO. Or will he?

    Kenney’s endless and toxic tantrums will even cause the CPC to distance themselves from this angry midget. Kenney will be forever trapped in Alberta, where he will take out his endless rage its miserable masses. And like the good abused spouse, they will keep electing Kenney and the UCP in the hope that the abuse stops.

    Reply
  7. Laurie Adkin

    November 20th, 2019

    AIMCo–one of the investment management companies that manages the University of Alberta’s Pension Plan. We found out, earlier this year, that AIMCo had invested our pension funds in two American prison companies: GEO Group and CoreCivic. They are running the detention centres where refugees from the south are being held. At the end of July AIMCo reported to the UAPP executive that it had sold its investment in these two companies. But this leaves me asking what AIMCo considers to be “ethical investing” and where else it might be parking our savings.

    Reply
  8. Laurie Adkin

    November 20th, 2019

    Regarding the historical precedents for the most recent firing of Mr. Gibson, here’s an excerpt from chapter 17 of my edited book, First World Petro-Politics: The Political Ecology and Governance of Alberta (University of Toronto Press, 2016):

    The Klein years (1992-2006) were characterized by intolerance of dissent, with the government’s actions against its critics (civil servants, academics, leaders of civil society organizations) including dismissals, sanctions imposed on civil servants, threatened de-funding, public denunciations, and curtailed legislative sessions (Adkin 1995; Dabbs 2006; Harrison and Laxer 1995; Lisac 1995; Taft 2007). Such tactics have continued under subsequent governments, particularly with regard to critics of the expansion of the oil sands (environmentalists, health professionals). In addition to making accusations of disloyalty, government discourse has occasionally associated social movement activists with threats to public order and safety, or even terrorism (Le Billon and Carter 2012).
    The Conservatives have become particularly vulnerable, since the mid-2000s, to criticisms of economic mismanagement, wasteful spending on perks for politicians, and corruption with regard to donations to the party. Following the 2008 provincial election, the Chief Electoral Officer, Lorne Gibson, reported evidence of ‘illegal campaign contributions and proposed more than 100 ways to run elections better’ (Pratt 2010, 38). In an example of ‘disciplining’ practices, Progressive Conservative (Government) members of the Standing Committee of Legislative Offices later unanimously opposed the Chief Electoral Officer’s reappointment. Two years later, Mr. Gibson filed a law suit against the government of Alberta, claiming unfair dismissal, and asking for $450,000, or roughly two years’ salary and benefits.

    Reply
  9. Chris Morrison

    November 20th, 2019

    Notley hires someone who had previously sued the Conservative gov’t and people are expected to assume he is not partisan? She created the title and position of Elections Commissioner as an attempt to create outrage in the media and the electorate. If anyone was guilty of corruption it was Notley who should have been removed as Premier due to extreme conflict of interest with her husband working for CUPE during her tenure and even using government employees and resources to do his business–now that, is something for which people should really be outraged.

    Reply
    • Kang

      November 20th, 2019

      Dear Chris Morrison: If Notley should not be part of government because of her connection with labour, would you agree that anyone connected to the oil and gas industry should also not be part of government? Okay! I will trade you a Notley for the UCP Cabinet and most of its caucus.

      PS: do you think it will be easy to force drilling rigs or pipelines onto farm or ranch land now that it is clear it will be farmers and ranchers picking up the clean-up bill? Of course it will not matter anyway because when TMX is completed there will still not be another oil boom. Given the way the global energy market is going, it is not even clear the tar babies at Ft. Mac will survive.

      Have a nice day.

      Reply
      • Jerrymacgp

        November 21st, 2019

        Not only that, Mr Kang, but the union that Mr Arab, Ms Notley’s husband, works for does not represent provincial employees in Alberta. CUPE — Canadian Union of Public [not “provincial”] Employees — represents many municipal and school board staff, among others, but provincial public servants and many AHS staff are represented by AUPE, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. So, there is no conflict of interest at all. Now, if she were on, say, Edmonton city council, maybe then there’d be an issue.

        Reply
  10. Colino

    November 23rd, 2019

    I’ve stopped calling the UCP, the “United Complicit Party” and now call them the “United Criminals Party”. During the election not one of the candidates were moral enough to question the validity of Kenny’s leadership knowing full well that he used fraud, lying and cheating to attain it. Thus they were complicit, but now by voting for this bill they are actively helping to cover it up like the criminals they are. 🙁

    Reply

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