It might have seemed like a good idea when the Kenney Government passed legislation last year allowing bulk purchases of party memberships, but it was probably inevitable that an idea that dodgy would cause trouble for the United Conservative Party sooner or later.
That time has now come.
Yesterday, the CBC reported it has a letter in its possession showing Elections Alberta is investigating allegations there have been legally sketchy bulk purchases of UCP memberships, presumably by Jason Kenney’s campaign to hang onto his leadership.
The broadcaster quoted would-be UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean’s principal advisor, Vitor Marciano, saying Mr. Jean’s group complained to Elections Alberta in late March that someone had purchased memberships in bulk earlier that month.
The excruciatingly carefully worded CBC story went on to say that Mr. Marciano indicated “they named the Kenney campaign as part of their complaint,” a statement that doesn’t quite connect the dots.
Mr. Marciano told the CBC that about 4,000 memberships were purchased in March with just six credit cards.
Question: So what’s the problem with that if the Kenney Government passed legislation in December 2021 making the practice legal?
Answer: Bill 81, the Election Statutes Amendment Act, didn’t take effect until March 31, 2022.
In other words, it would appear that even though the Kenney Government passed legislation making the practice legal, the premier’s supporters were in such a hurry to use it that their campaign couldn’t wait until the law took effect.
Indeed, even to comply with the new rules under the act, it probably would have required more donors than just six to make the cut.
This adds up to a problem for Mr. Kenney because, while the UCP executive can be counted never to enforce its own rules when The Maximum Leader is accused of breaking them, it’s not the UCP that enforces the law.
That leaves the question of whether Elections Alberta – an office of the Legislature, which in turn is dominated by the UCP – can be counted on to take allegations against Premier Kenney seriously. Mr. Marciano says he’s confident the office will and that he expects a real investigation will take place.
As regular followers of Alberta politics should be aware, the RCMP continues to investigate election funding irregularities and allegations of voter identity theft in the 2017 UCP leadership contest won by Mr. Kenney and lost by Mr. Jean.
But that investigation has taken so long, with the RCMP apparently still dragging their boots, that many Albertans have come to doubt it will ever be resolved.
Mr. Jean, who resigned as MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin in 2018 soon after his loss to Mr. Kenney, returned to political activities last year and won a by-election as the UCP candidate in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche on March 15 this year. He campaigned on a platform of dumping Mr. Kenney and replacing him as leader, which he argues is the only way to prevent the return of the NDP to power.
When the UCP introduced Bill 81 in November 2021, it was even opposed by some UCP MLAs.
In addition to the NDP Opposition, UCP MLAs David Hanson (Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul), Richard Gotfried (Calgary-Fish Creek), and Leela Aheer (Chestermere-Strathmore, who had been kicked out of cabinet last June for criticizing Mr. Kenney) all argued in the Legislature that the change was a formula for trouble. It would encourage well-funded candidates to buy memberships in the names of Albertans who might never know their identities had been stolen to vote in a campaign, Mr. Hanson said.
They were also joined in their opposition by exiled former UCP Caucus members Drew Barnes, Cypress-Medicine Hat, and Todd Loewen, Central Peace-Notley, both of whom now sit as Independent MLAs.
Their objections were for naught. The government insisted such things would never happen, imposed time limitation on the bill, and after Kenney loyalists on the UCP benches organized a filibuster to shut down debate, passed it at the end of the Legislature’s Dec. 7 evening sitting.
A day that will live in infamy, as it were.
So here we are. It seems unlikely that if Mr. Kenney is named the victor on May 18, when the UCP plans to announce the leadership vote results, that most Albertans will conclude there’s something fishy about his endorsement.