A co-campaign manager for Jeff Callaway’s 2017 campaign in which he vied for the leadership of the United Conservative Party has been fined $15,000 for what the Office of the Election Commissioner calls “obstruction of an investigation.”
Further details about why the two fines, $7,500 each, were issued on Tuesday were not made available on the Election Commissioner’s website.
The website entry relating to the fine cites section 45 of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act. Section 45 of the act states that “no person shall obstruct any person carrying out an inquiry, investigation or examination under this act or withhold from that person or conceal or destroy any books, papers, documents or things relevant to the subject matter of the investigation or examination.”
When asked for comment, co-campaign manager Cameron Davies referred Global News to a lawyer, who issued a statement.
“We take issue with the findings of the commissioner,” Dale Fedorchuk said in an email. “I have received instructions from Mr. Davies to appeal the decision to the Court of Queen’s Bench. I note that the findings of the commissioner were not based upon a hearing, where oral evidence was presented and findings of fact made.
“It is important that the public not make any conclusions or draw any inferences from the commissioner’s decision until this matter has been heard by the court.
“Mr. Davies specifically denies the allegations brought against him and will vigorously defend this matter going forward.”
In an interview with Global News on Tuesday night, Fedorchuk indicated he and his client felt blindsided by news of the fine.
“We have not been provided with any witness statements,” he said. “All we’ve been provided with was a letter saying, ‘We’re making some allegations of obstruction against you for interfering with witnesses.’ That has been the whole extent of it.
“We haven’t had an opportunity to review anything that they have to counteract anything they have or rebut anything they have.”
Fedorchuk said he had concerns about due process with regard to how Davies was being treated.
“What we are seeking is a legitimate court hearing where we have evidence heard, we have a judge considering all of the facts and then making a ruling,” he said. “I find the timing quite suspect. We are very close to an election and now we have this investigation taking place and this finding that’s resulted in the imposition of a fine.
“It’s interesting that this didn’t take place months ago… It’s like going to a hockey game and the referee, late in the third period, starts calling penalties against just one team.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, the UCP issued a statement regarding the fines levied against Davies. The party said Davies had “maintained an independent contractor agreement with the UCP caucus to provide policy briefing notes” since Nov. 13, 2018.
“Mr. Davies was to provide policy research as an experienced adviser, including as a former adviser to the past leader of the Opposition,” the UCP said in a statement.
“Following late January media reports about the Jeff Callaway leadership campaign, Mr. Davies was proactively contacted, given that he had previously been a member of that campaign. Mr. Davies was proactively contacted because we felt that it was important for individuals employed by or contracted to the caucus to uphold the highest legal and ethical standards.”
The statement continued: “Mr. Davies advised that he was not the subject of any investigation. Mr. Davies was encouraged to fully co-operate with any inquiries made by the Election Commissioner and to advise us of any change in circumstance.
“On Feb. 26, the Elections Commissioner provided notice of two administrative penalties against Mr. Davies. As a result, Mr. Davies’ independent contractor agreement has been terminated. We understand Mr. Davies will be appealing the administrative penalties.
“At no time has the Elections Commissioner contacted the UCP, the UCP caucus, the leader’s office, nor the leader’s previous leadership campaign.”
Callaway ended his bid to become UCP leader in October 2017 and endorsed Jason Kenney’s leadership bid, which ended up being successful.
“I came to the conclusion, really after last night’s debate and looking at some other data that ultimately, Jason Kenney and I are delivering much the same message,” Callaway told Corus Entertainment in 2017. “I came to the conclusion that I think that the right decision is to join forces.”
In 2017, a political analyst with Mount Royal University told Global News there had been rumours Callaway’s leadership bid was as a “stalking horse” for Kenney.
“Originally, Derek Fildebrandt was supposed to be the attack dog for Kenney vs. Brian Jean,” Duane Bratt said at the time.
But then Fildebrandt was forced to step down from the UCP caucus amid controversy over his conduct.
“Jeff Callaway, who had been critical of Jean’s leadership in the past, seemed to be recruited (at the last moment) to take Fildebrandt’s place,” Bratt said. “At both the Calgary and Edmonton debate, Callaway launched attacks against Brian Jean. He has done his job. And now to ensure that he doesn’t get any votes, Callaway is dropping out of the race.
“It all looks very suspicious.”
Kenney has vehemently denied Callaway was running a kamikaze campaign to benefit his leadership bid.
Watch below: (From 2017) Jason Kenney suggests money was reason for Jeff Callaway’s decision to leave UCP race
In a statement issued on Dec. 16, 2018, the campaign manager for Kenney’s UCP leadership bid issued a statement rejecting the notion that Kenney’s campaign needed any kind of outside help.
“Our campaign ran on its own merits, and United Conservative members rewarded Jason’s positive vision with a resounding first-ballot victory with roughly two-thirds of the votes,” John Weissenberger said at the time. “With all due respect to the other contestants in the race, we did not need assistance from other campaigns.
“Of course, in a ranked-ballot race, it’s not abnormal for competitors to talk to one another on occasion.”
Weissenberger also said the Kenney campaign did not transfer funds to another campaign or to “individuals for the purpose of reaching another campaign.”
“Running a successful leadership campaign is not cheap, and we needed every dollar. Elections Alberta helpfully posts all leadership contestants’ disclosures publicly,” he said. “We fully complied with all laws and regulations.”
In another statement issued later in December, Weissenberger said: “We told Mr. Callaway that the decision on whether or not to run was his and that he would need to find his own funding should he choose to do so.”
Callaway ended his leadership bid shortly after alerting people on his email list of an intimidating email he received.
“Obviously Mr. Swertz is not upset with my ideas, he’s upset that I have been speaking out about the Wildrose’s $322,000 caucus deficit, which has resulted in staff layoffs,” it reads.
However, Callaway said the allegedly intimidating email he received had nothing to do with his decision to drop out of the race.
Watch below: (From 2017) Jeff Callaway says money was not the issue in his decision to step out of UCP race
At the time, the Brian Jean campaign told Global News that Swertz was not a Jean appointee.