Albertans learned yesterday that Elections Alberta has levied fines totalling $33,500 on Calgary-Falconridge United Conservative Party MLA Devinder Toor, his campaign finance manager, and a company run by his family for a string of violations when he was seeking the nomination in the northwest Calgary riding and during the 2019 general election.
The United Conservative Party government seems to face corrosive new scandals with startling frequency -- and this in the midst of the dog days of The Best Summer Ever, a time of year when reporters and pundits traditionally expect to suffer a dearth of good stories to write about.
But according to Elections Alberta's website, which merely presented two nearly identical lists of offences and fines without the traditional self-congratulatory news release, Toor's violations included:
- Exceeding expense limits
- Filing a false financial statement with Elections Alberta
- Improperly borrowing money for the campaign
- Accepting a prohibited contribution for the campaign
- Failing to deposit contributions into the account on record with the chief electoral officer
In Toor's case, each one of those allegations goes double, once for the nomination campaign, the other for the general election.
For the lot, fines of $15,000 were levied against the MLA personally.
What's more, Sahib Bhakri, Toor's financial guy in both the nomination contest and the general election, was fined $14,000 for two identical lists of electoral misdeeds in the nomination and election campaigns, which Elections Alberta said included:
- Failing to keep proper records
- Failing to put contributions in the registered account
- Failing to complete proper receipts
- Failing to vouch for expenses over $25
- Failing to advise the chief electoral officer of prohibited contributions
- Exceeding expense limits
- Filing a false campaign expense claim
Finally, a numbered company of which Toor was a director along with other family members was fined $4,500 for making improper donations to both campaigns.
Remember, Toor was elected in 2019 in a riding in which the NDP would certainly be in contention between the two parties' likely candidates if a new vote were held today -- even without these developments.
In the 2019 election, only 96 votes separated Toor and the NDP's candidate, Parmeet Singh Boparai -- 6,756 votes or 45.6 per cent of the vote for Toor and 6,660 or 44.9 per cent for Boparai. It was the tightest race in the province.
The fines were levied by the province's mild-mannered elections agency after Jason Kenney shut down the more aggressive Office of the Election Commissioner and fired its NDP-appointed occupant, Lorne Gibson, back in November 2019.
NDP Opposition Deputy Leader Sarah Hoffman yesterday called on Toor to resign and demanded that Premier Kenney "eject him immediately from the government caucus for this corrupt behaviour."
"This is not a simple mistake," she said. "These are willful, deliberate breaches of election laws that call into question Mr. Toor's integrity, and his ability to hold the public's trust. Albertans should be outraged at this level of sleaziness and corruption in Jason Kenney's UCP caucus."
Needless to say, Kenney is unlikely to pay much attention to Hoffman's demand. After all, his own campaigns for the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives and later the United Conservative Party were not without their own similar controversies.
As former PC Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk observed in an acerbic tweet yesterday, "If cheating in an election was a criteria for removing a UCP MLA from @Alberta_UCP caucus, they would be missing a leader, several cabinet ministers and a bunch of backbenchers."
Having exhausted provocative putdowns of poseurs in pickups and the punishing potential of pepper spray on provincial politics to redirect our attention from Alberta's rapidly rising post-Stampede COVID-19 infection rate, it will be interesting to see what the UCP brain trust comes up with to distract us from the misdeeds of Toor's campaigns.
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 at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.
Image: David Climenhaga/Used with permission
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