UCP denies political interference over firing of election commissioner

Alberta elections commissioner Lorne Gibson, who has levied more than $200,000 in fines in his investigation of the 2017 UCP leadership race, would be fired if a bill introduced by the government Monday is passed and proclaimed into law. 

Bill 22, introduced by Finance Minister Travis Toews, makes 14 changes in support of the budget, including a previously announced measure to transfer management of the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund to the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo). 

The measures to remove Gibson raised questions about political interference in the work of an independent officer of the legislative assembly. 

The bill would open the way for the government to merge and consolidate the Office of the Election Commissioner into the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, changing the Election Act and the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.

Gibson’s investigation into the so-called “kamikaze” campaign of UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway has led to fines against 15 people totalling $207,223.

Callaway allegedly entered the 2017 contest to discredit former Wildrose leader, and Jason Kenney’s chief rival, Brian Jean, only to drop out and endorse Kenney weeks later. 

Toews brushed off suggestions his government was trying to thwart Gibson’s investigation into the UCP leadership race won by Kenney in October 2017.

“Absolutely not,” Toews said. “This is about defensible structure. This is about ensuring the most efficient operation of government.

“The chief electoral officer will have full ability to rehire the existing commissioner.” 

Kenney is travelling to Texas later Monday and has not commented on the bill.

Bill 22 says investigations currently before the elections commissioner “may” continue.

The government defends the word, saying it reflects the government’s inability to order a independent officer of the legislature to take any action.

The election commissioner position was created by the NDP government through the Act to Strengthen and Protect Democracy in Alberta.

Gibson’s contract was to end in 2023.

While chief electoral officer Glen Resler can rehire Gibson or a replacement, there is no timeline for doing so, meaning the position could be left vacant. 

The government estimates the change will save $1 million over five years. 

The RCMP is in charge of the ongoing probe into possible identity theft and fraud in relation to the 2017 UCP vote. 

CBC News obtained emails and documents that outline the collaboration between the Kenney and Callaway campaigns, including a resignation speech emailed to Callaway’s team from Kenney’s then-deputy chief of staff, Matt Wolf. 

Kenney and Callaway deny they worked together to defeat Jean. 

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