Kenney defends his team communicating with UCP adversary during leadership race as ‘not unusual’

Click to play video: 'UCP leadership scandal overshadows Alberta throne speech'
UCP leadership scandal overshadows Alberta throne speech
WATCH ABOVE: Typically, a throne speech would take centre stage at the Alberta legislature, but on Monday, UCP Leader Jason Kenney was asked about the controversy surrounding the 2017 UCP leadership race. Vinesh Pratap explains – Mar 18, 2019

Jason Kenney vehemently defended both himself and the actions of his leadership campaign’s senior team on Monday after emails obtained by some media outlets — including Global News — over the weekend suggested his team worked with an adversary in the UCP race to defeat his primary rival.

“There was staff communicating on communications material and stuff like that,” Kenney told Global News Radio on Monday, while speaking about his campaign staff’s dealings with members of Jeff Callaway’s leadership campaign. “This is not the least bit unusual that campaigns will communicate.”

Kenney also denied helping to finance Callaway’s campaign.

The 2017 UCP leadership campaign — that saw Kenney secure an impressive win and become the party’s first leader (on a non-interim basis) — has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks. Alberta’s election commissioner has levied fines in connection with attempts to block an investigation looking into the Callaway campaign and for violations with regard to financial contributions made to that campaign.The RCMP has since confirmed that the election commissioner has referred the matter to them and that they are now looking into it.

Story continues below advertisement

For months, political commentators have suggested it appeared Callaway’s decision to join the leadership race was made in order to attack Kenney’s main rival, Brian Jean, in order to help Kenney’s campaign. Callaway later dropped out of the race and endorsed Kenney.

On Sunday, Global News obtained emails that appeared to validate that theory. The emails show that the campaigns shared talking points and mock advertisements that could be used against Jean. However, on Monday, Kenney indicated he believes Callaway’s campaign was a legitimate bid to at least explore the possibility of becoming the leader of the UCP.

READ MORE: Kenney, Callaway campaigns worked together to undermine Brian Jean’s UCP leadership run, leaked emails show

Watch below: (From March 17, 2019) Emails obtained by Global News from the Jason Kenney and Jeff Callaway campaigns reveal the two worked together to attack and undermine Brian Jean’s UCP leadership run. Julia Wong reports.

Click to play video: 'Kenney, Callaway campaigns worked together to undermine Brian Jean’s UCP leadership run, leaked emails show'
Kenney, Callaway campaigns worked together to undermine Brian Jean’s UCP leadership run, leaked emails show
“I went there to ask for his endorsement for my campaign for the leadership,” Kenney said of a meeting he took part in at Callaway’s house in July 2017. “He told me that he was considering running his own leadership campaign. He said he thought because there was a group of Wildrose [Party] supporters that wouldn’t support Brian [Jean] or I… they needed a voice. He also had some issues he wanted to articulate around the natural gas industry, access to Hudson’s Bay and some other issues, and it was no secret he had no love lost for Brian. I think they had a longstanding… some kind of personality feud.
Story continues below advertisement

“I wanted to get his (Callaway’s) endorsement or support [but] I left that meeting with the impression he would be at least launching an exploratory campaign and possibly going all the way to the end,” Kenney said.

On Sunday, Global News obtained an email sent to the UCP caucus by the party’s deputy chief of staff after the contents of emails suggesting the Kenney and Callaway campaigns worked together were published by various media outlets.

“Once Mr. Callaway entered the race, it was also clear that his team was receptive to keeping some communication channels open between our respective campaigns,” Matt Wolf wrote. “This is of course completely normal in politics, especially in a leadership race that could see multiple ballots in the end. It would be imprudent to push away someone whose second ballot support might be required at a later time.”

Wolf said while he did “push things like research” to Callaway’s team, it was not a “puppet-type operation.” He also wrote that the Kenney campaign had nothing to do with funding the Callaway campaign. “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.”

“Our leadership campaign did not in any way funnel donations to the Callaway camp — an act that would clearly be in violation of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act,” he wrote. “I am very confident that even a suggestion of doing so would firmly be rejected by our campaign’s leadership team at the time, and rightly so.”

Story continues below advertisement

While fines levied by the election commissioner have raised questions about how the Callaway campaign was financed, a report published by Maclean’s on Monday shed new light on where tens of thousands of dollars may have come from.

Maclean’s reports it has obtained personal bank documents showing a $60,000 payment being deposited into the personal bank account of Callaway’s campaign manager, Cam Davies, from a corporate entity listed as “Agropyron.” Maclean’s reported that Davies has told them the money was then funnelled to Callaway’s campaign in a way that may have broken provincial laws. The magazine also reported that Davies said the source of the funds was then covered up.

Watch below: More questions are being raised about the 2017 UCP leadership race and who helped Jeff Callaway with his campaign and why. On Monday afternoon, party leader Jason Kenney answered more questions about the controversy. Sarah Kraus reports.

Click to play video: 'Kenney comments on Callaway controversy Monday afternoon'
Kenney comments on Callaway controversy Monday afternoon

Earlier this month, Davies was fined $15,000 by Alberta’s election commissioner for blocking an investigation. Through his lawyer, Davies has denied doing so and indicated he will mount a legal fight to try to have the finding overturned.

Story continues below advertisement

Global News reached out to Davies on Monday to ask for comment about the Maclean’s report on the Callaway campaign.

“[My campaign] didn’t offer or provide any material or financial support [to Callaway’s campaign],” Kenney said on Monday. “If there are questions about irregularities, I hope that the authorities get to the bottom of it and that people are held accountable if they’ve done anything wrong.”

Watch below: 630 CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen weighs in on the Alberta election and the 2017 UCP leadership campaign and how involved Jason Kenney’s team was with an adversary’s team.

Click to play video: '630CHED’s Ryan Jespersen on UCP leadership campaign questions'
630CHED’s Ryan Jespersen on UCP leadership campaign questions

Premier Rachel Notley briefly commented on the latest developments on Monday while taking questions from reporters and described the questions about the UCP leadership race as “a very significant scandal.”

Story continues below advertisement

“At its very best, it amounts to very dark, backroom politics, focused on thwarting democracy,” she said. “At its worst, it is criminal in nature.

“When the dust settles, with respect to what happened with money there as well with other cases where we are actually still seeing big money able to play a larger role than perhaps people would like to see, then all of that will inform a review that will be done after the election.”

READ MORE: Notley calls Kenney unfit to lead Alberta as RCMP probe UCP leadership race

Kenney told Global News he has already taken steps to try to determine if there is anything unusual about how Callaway’s campaign was funded.

“When we first heard rumours about this… (in) the fall, I had staff call everyone who had been in a leadership role in my campaign to double-check and triple-check if any of them had heard of sources of funds to Jeff Callaway’s campaign and it came back no, that no one was aware,” he said. “One individual wasn’t forthcoming with us, his name is Randy Kerr. He had been a candidate in… (Calgary-Beddington) when we discovered that he had not been forthcoming. We removed him as a candidate and referred that information to the elections commissioner.”

Global News has reached out to Callaway for comment about the communication between his campaign and Kenney’s and about allegations of potentially inappropriate or illegal financial contributions being made to his campaign.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: UCP drops candidate, alleges he wasn’t ‘forthright’ about contribution to Callaway campaign

On Sunday, a UCP member and longtime conservative posted on Facebook that he catered the food for the meeting at Callaway’s house.

“At that strategy meeting, we agreed that Jeff Callaway will join the UCP leadership race as a candidate and will run a campaign aimed at discrediting Brian Jean,” Happy Mann wrote. “We felt that it was important for Jason Kenney to win decisively and that this could only be guaranteed if another candidate took away from Jean’s popularity.

“To show unity, we needed a big win.”

Mann told Global News on Monday that he believes Kenney and the UCP should adopt a policy of full disclosure on the subject and then let the public decide if anything wrong was done.

“Everything is coming out,” Mann said. “Slowly and gradually the emails start coming forward.

“We know that Albertans are very generous. They do understand that nobody is born as a saint — we all are human beings and we do make a mistake… let’s not live in a tolerance or in a denial.

“Albertans are individuals who will forgive you… so that’s what compelled me to tell them, ‘Yes, this happened.'”

Story continues below advertisement

Mann said he has given his account of the July meeting at Callaway’s home and what he knows about Callaway’s campaign to the RCMP and to the election commissioner.

“I asked [where will money for Callaway’s campaign come from?]… there in that meeting, and I’ve been told, ‘Don’t worry, funds will be arranged,'” he said.

“I was naïve in a certain way because you rely that the person who wants to be a premier of Alberta, you’d think that whatever he is telling you to do or he is participating in doing, he must do everything right.”

Mann told Global News he still has questions about how many UCP memberships were paid for.

“If it comes from a PAC (political action committee), then that is an issue for the election commissioner and Mr. Kenney… [to decide], whether recycling the PAC money to the party through the membership is legal or not,” he said, adding that he is not sure how many of the memberships were paid for. “I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know.”
Story continues below advertisement

Mann said he believes Kenney has set a high moral standard that he must live up to, pointing out that Independent MLA Prab Gill was turfed from the party over a ballot box stuffing scandal.

“If that standard has been set, then why is there a difference between a sheep and a shepherd?” he asked.

“We should have a judicial inquiry and put him (Kenney) under oath so everyone will say everything under oath,” Mann said.

A political science professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University told Global News on Monday that he believes it could be some time before Albertans get the whole story.

“Right now, without any charges, I already see it as a major ethical breach,” Duane Bratt said. “I have no doubt that the entire Callaway campaign was orchestrated by the Jason Kenney team — I have no doubt about that. But on the issue of the money and the criminal investigation, we’re still waiting to see how that plays itself out, and that could take months.”

Notley said she believes the revelations about the UCP leadership race, along with still unanswered questions, should prompt Albertans to question Kenney’s integrity.

Kenney suggested he believes the NDP is trying to use questions about the UCP leadership campaign to distract from the government’s economic record ahead of the provincial election.

Story continues below advertisement

“It’s the classic fear and smear campaign and now people are trying to relitigate a leadership election that I won with over 60 per cent of the vote,” he said. “I was honoured to receive a huge mandate like that.

“I’m not going to be distracted for the next month talking about the sour grapes group that doesn’t want to come to terms with the decisions our members made.”

Notley is expected to call an election any day now. She could have already dropped the writ weeks ago.

“I think it (the Callaway campaign questions) has had an impact,” Bratt said. “Not the RCMP investigation, but there’s been so many developments in such a recent time that that might have led her (Notley) to possibly delay the election.”

–With files from Global News’ Julia Wong and Slav Kornik

Sponsored content