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Alberta MLA alleges 'suspicious donations' used in 2017 to undermine UCP leadership race

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Prab Gill asking a question in Question Period … although not Thursday’s Question Period.

Calgary-Greenway MLA Prab Gill used the final Question Period of the fall 2018 session of the Alberta Legislature Thursday to allege that "more than $40,000 in very suspicious donations" was given to a United Conservative Party leadership candidate to undermine candidate Brian Jean.

Jean was the former leader of the Wildrose Party. Jason Kenney, a former federal Conservative MP and cabinet minister, was elected on March 18, 2017, as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party on a platform of uniting the two conservative parties. Throughout much of 2017 they were the two front-running candidates to lead the merged party.

Acknowledging that he may not return as a member of Alberta's Legislative Assembly after the next provincial election, Gill also alleged that "party leaders have used envelopes full of undisclosed PAC cash to interfere with the leadership contest in parties like the UCP."

The former Progressive Conservative and United Conservative MLA was pushed out of the UCP Caucus last summer after allegations he interfered with ballots in a June 30 party nomination election in a Calgary riding. He told the Legislature Thursday the leadership candidate, whom he did not name, "attacked Brian Jean in the UCP leadership race and … ultimately endorsed the Leader of the Opposition."

Addressing his question to Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman, Gill asked: "… given that there are rumours that this money actually came from a PAC associated with the Leader of the Opposition, can the government confirm that the Election Commissioner is investigating this PAC and these questionable donations?"

Hoffman, who is also health minister in the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley, responded that she could not, and urged Gill to bring his concerns to the police and elections officials.

The day before, Gill told the Legislature he had had a change of heart about his meek acceptance last July of the UCP's demand he sit as an Independent after the party said he had taken part in ballot box stuffing in the Calgary North-East constituency. He called the UCP's internal investigation of the circumstances a "sham," and accused the party of "corruption and racism" for the way it treated him.

"In my weakness I caved and agreed to quietly sit as an Independent," Gill told the House. "But by not defending myself to my fullest ability I left the impression that I had done something wrong."

When votes in the UCP leadership race were counted on Oct. 28, 2017, there were only three candidates seeking the leadership. The third was Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who is now the party's candidate in the Calgary-Elbow riding.

Calgary investment advisor Jeff Callaway pulled out of the race in early October and endorsed Kenney. However, in an interview with the Calgary Herald at the time, Callaway said he made no deals with Kenney before launching his campaign or deciding to withdraw.

For the most part, mainstream media in Alberta did not cover Gill's allegations or the exchange during Question Period, although it was mentioned in a Tweet by Edmonton Journal Legislative reporter Emma Graney.

Given the media's longstanding bad habit of not letting politicians speak for themselves, I have reproduced the entire exchange from Alberta Hansard below:

Political Action Committees

Mr. Gill: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. There is a chance that this might be my last question in this Assembly, so please bear with me. In 2015 the Premier passed laws that were supposed to take big money out of politics, but instead they introduced U.S.-style PACs that have made our politics uglier and increased the power of party leaders. Now the party leaders can use PAC money to do dirty politics and shrug their shoulders and pretend to be innocent. Is the Premier aware of reports that PACs are being directly run by Alberta political parties to hide money and get around the law?

Ms Hoffman: No, Mr. Speaker, and certainly if the hon. Member has any evidence or information that he'd like to bring forward, I would certainly be very concerned if that were the case. I appreciate him raising this. If he has any information that could bring light to this, I think it is deeply troubling.

The Speaker: The hon. member. First supplemental.

Mr. Gill: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Party leaders and the PACs they control now call the shots, and that is not good. Given that there are rumours that the party leaders have used envelopes full of undisclosed PAC cash to interfere with the leadership contest in parties like the UCP and given that instead of clean politics we have gotten more dirty tricks than ever before, has the government asked the Election Commissioner to investigate whether PACs were involved in illegal activities in the UCP leadership race?

The Speaker: The hon. Deputy Premier.

Ms Hoffman: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'm very proud of the race that we had. We had three fantastic leadership candidates, who ran very fair and reasonable campaigns, and I'm very proud of the kind of democracy we've built through a leadership campaign in our party rather than what it sounds like the hon. member is referring to. Certainly, any time people are making negative kinds of promises based on underhanded concerns, that's very concerning to me. I certainly would welcome the hon. member to raise his concerns with the Ethics Commissioner or an elections officer.

Mr. Gill: Mr. Speaker, given that it appears that there were more than $40,000 in very suspicious donations made to a UCP leadership candidate who attacked Brian Jean in the UCP leadership race and who ultimately endorsed the Leader of the Opposition and given that there are rumours that this money actually came from a PAC associated with the Leader of the Opposition, can the government confirm that the Election Commissioner is investigating this PAC and these questionable donations?

Ms Hoffman: I can't, Mr. Speaker. Certainly, the Election Commissioner reports to all members of this Assembly, but if the hon. member has information about that that he is hoping to highlight, I imagine it would be best to go to the Election Commissioner. We know that some people like to say, you know, that things that are alleged fraud belong with internal party mechanisms. I think that alleged fraud belongs with the police, and if there are concerns about alleged fraud in political activities, then it should be brought to the police. I think that if the hon. member has concerns about elections, then he should certainly bring those as well to the election officer.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Image: Screenshot of Alberta Legislative Assembly video

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