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Fallout from dual probes into 2017 UCP leadership campaign still drifting down

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Jason Kenney, Andrew Scheer and Tim Uppal (Photo: Andrew Scheer/Twitter).

It may not be fair, and you may not like it, but politics is like French justice: Guilty until proven innocent.

OK, the French say it ain't so, and we have to take them at their word. They've signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, bien sûr!

But in politics, not so much.

Why do you think political operatives love to leak a scandal just before there's an election, when there's not enough time to set the story straight, if straight it can be set?

So the fact the dual investigations into allegations of vote fraud in the 2017 United Conservative Party leadership race won by Jason Kenney, one by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the other by the Office of the Election Commissioner, continue to turn over new rocks, must be troubling indeed to the Alberta premier's strategic brain trust.

In a way, it's even worse for them that it's happening at the start of the UCP's mandate, when no sneaky political opponent with some fake news up his sleeve would go to the trouble of spreading a false story. Why bother? There's far too much time for the victim of the tale to prove his innocence.

So reports like the Star's saying the Mounties are now talking to federal Conservative politicians does not look good on either Kenney's UCP or, one supposes, Andrew Scheer's Conservative Party of Canada.

According to the Star, the RCMP have now interviewed Tim Uppal, the former member of Parliament for Edmonton-Sherwood Park and former minister of state in Stephen Harper's CPC cabinet who is now running in the Edmonton Mill Woods federal riding, hoping to unseat Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi.

A statement from Uppal, given to the Star by federal Conservative Party officials, said, "Yes, I sat down with RCMP." This was followed by the disclaimer Albertans have now grown accustomed to hearing: "But I was not the subject of the meeting."

Calgary-East UCP MLA Peter Singh, whose office was also raided by police with computers and records removed, and five cabinet ministers have also been interviewed by the Mounties. Each of the ministers said they were not the subject of their meetings.

So far, it would seem that no one is the subject of the Mounties' investigation, which makes one wonder why they're pursuing it. The explanation, of course, is that someone is, we just haven't yet been told who it is.

The federal Opposition leader, of course, does face an election fairly soon, and he's been dishing out some fairly questionable claims about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, so he can now expect to get as good as he gives.

It's Kenney, though, who really has to worry about the impression this is leaving -- and not just with voters in Alberta, if we believe what we have been told about his personal prime ministerial ambitions.

Meanwhile, the CBC reported yesterday that Premier Kenney says the Office of the Election Commissioner will not necessarily be spared budget cuts just because it's investigating his leadership campaign when he gets around to his big austerity campaign, which is to be introduced after the October 21 federal election so that no one can accuse him of trying to sandbag Scheer.

The CBC popped that question after it discovered the office was investigating an allegation that Kenney himself had advised an out-of-pocket former party operative that someone else would pay for 600 memberships the volunteer had signed up. That, of course, would be illegal.

"Asked whether he would commit to funding the office in order to avoid the perception of interference in an investigation involving his campaign, Kenney demurred," the CBC reported politely.

Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson, appointed by the previous NDP government and not particularly liked by the Conservatives, has already slapped fines of more than $163,000 on people involved in candidate Jeff Callaway's "kamikaze campaign," which is said to have been set up to slime the campaign run by former Wildrose leader Brian Jean and then to go away when that work was done.

Oddly, at the time of the leadership campaign, this was spoken of as if it were common knowledge and no one seemed to mind. Now there are many denials.

I'm sure the UCP would love an excuse to send Gibson packing as soon as possible, and austerity might just provide the excuse they need. But they're going to have to tough it out for a couple more months, by the sound of it.

The identity of the Ontario Crown prosecutor who oversees the RCMP investigation remains a secret.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: Andrew Scheer/Twitter

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