What did Jason Kenney know and when did he know it?
Those are the most important questions arising from now-suspended justice minister Kaycee Madu’s telephone call a little over 10 months ago to tell Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee he’d been ticketed by a city traffic cop for distracted driving.
Whatever the purpose of Mr. Madu’s phone call – and that is the topic of considerable debate – it seems improbable Premier Kenney and his staff didn’t know anything about it until Monday, when the rest of us learned about the $300 ticket and subsequent call to Chief McFee thanks to a CBC News report by reporters Elise von Scheel and Janice Johnston.
The Calgary Herald’s Don Braid, who has good sources inside Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party, wrote Monday that “the ticket episode was widely known in cabinet circles and talked about in jocular tones, sources say.”
And CTV said much the same thing yesterday, citing “several sources” of its own who said “senior staff within the premier’s office knew about Madu’s call to the chief within days of it happening, and that the incident was discussed among several cabinet members.”
Mr. Kenney, as is well known, is a micromanager who insists on being kept in the loop about everything his cabinet gets up to. One imagines there would have been hell to pay if something like this had been the topic of cabinet banter but some aide failed to let the premier in on the joke.
Plus, there is the matter of the Freedom of Information request filed by Ms. von Scheel and Ms. Johnston to find out more about the call. It was refused by the Edmonton Police Service, but just the same, once the request was filed everyone involved would have known exactly what the two reporters were looking for.
So it’s quite hard to believe the premier didn’t know about something certain to be interpreted as an attempt to interfere with the administration of justice – by the justice minister, no less – and bound to be a political embarrassment.
The simplest explanation is that Mr. Kenney knew, and didn’t think it was that big a deal. Until Mr. Madu got caught, that is.
Of course, that’s not a topic Mr. Kenney is likely to want to answer questions about, so chances were vanishingly small he’d take NDP Justice Critic Irfan Sabir’s advice at a news conference yesterday to “come out publicly and state for the record when he and his cabinet were first informed of Madu’s actions.”
Eventually, Mr. Kenney may have to answer questions about his justice minister’s fate, but it’s doubtful we’ll ever learn from his lips exactly when he was tipped to the existence of the phone call to Chief McFee.
As for Mr. Kenney’s intention to have a respected independent investigator review the circumstances to see if there was interference with the administration of justice, Mr. Sabir argued “there’s nothing to investigate.” Both Mr. Madu and Chief McFee confirmed what happened, he said, and the call clearly amounted to political interference. “This is simply a distraction.”
“Anything short of Madu’s resignation from Cabinet is simply not enough,” Mr. Sabir stated.
Monday night, Premier Kenney announced he was putting Mr. Madu on the bench – the only bench the UCP’s only Edmonton MLA is ever likely to be appointed to at this point – until the investigation is complete.
But the phrases the premier used – leave of absence, interim period, stepping back – left the impression this will be a temporary state of affairs.
“Stepping back is not the same as stepping down,” Mr. Sabir complained.
While Mr. Madu’s and Chief McFee’s accounts of the call are much the same – both recount a motive for the conversation not as unsavoury as trying to use a cabinet position to try to wiggle out of a $300 traffic citation – what they describe nevertheless meets the definition of interference with the administration of justice.
And as the Lord Chief Justice of England famously ruled in 1924, “justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”
So if Mr. Kenney disagrees, he at least owes Albertans an explanation of why.
Meanwhile, other interesting questions remain as well: Why didn’t Chief McFee say anything 10 months ago? Surely he realized Mr. Madu’s call was improper!
Or did he do something? If he did, though, we don’t know what, who he may have told, or what happened.
Nevertheless, something led someone, most likely within the Edmonton Police Service, to leak a copy of Mr. Madu’s ticket to the CBC.
Whoever it was, they must also have told the CBC’s reporters about the phone conversation with the chief. After all, that’s not something that could be inferred by just looking at the ticket.
So who did that? And why?
Did Mr. Madu inform the government of his conversation with the chief before the CBC story broke? If he did, to whom did he talk? And what did they do?
Unsurprisingly, there was no sign of Premier Kenney at yesterday afternoon’s COVID-19 briefing, where Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw flew solo. Had he shown up, as he often does, reporters certainly would have asked questions about the latest embarrassment.
But then, as Dr. Hinshaw said in response to a reporter on a slightly different subject, “I … am not part of the conversations about who attends these press conferences. …”