Callaway heads to court to try to have probe into UCP leadership race suspended
The man whose 2017 UCP leadership campaign is at the heart of investigation by Alberta’s election commissioner and the RCMP was in a Calgary courtroom on Monday as his lawyers argued the probe should be suspended, at least until after the provincial election wraps up.
Jeff Callaway’s lawyer, Ivan Bernardo, argued Monday afternoon that the election commissioner, Lorne Gibson, is acting like “he has a stake in the game” when it comes to questions about Callaway’s bid to become leader of Alberta’s most powerful conservative party.
Bernardo suggested he believes Gibson’s conduct hints that he has prejudged the matter as questions swirl about what some have alleged to be a “kamikaze”-style campaign aimed at helping Jason Kenney, who eventually won the leadership race.
“It is our position that the commissioner’s conduct has created at least a reasonable apprehension of bias and perhaps actual bias,” Bernardo said.
“The commissioner has prejudged the matter.”
Gibson’s lawyer, Corinne Petersen, countered that the election commissioner is non-partisan and reports to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. Responding to concerns raised by Bernardo about findings being publicly released as they are made, Petersen said that practice is required by law.
Bernardo told the court that his client’s team has asked Gibson to address its allegations of bias and had not received a reply. Bernardo also said that Gibson’s job should be to focus on the current election campaign, not the two-year-old UCP race, at least until the election is over.
“What is the urgency?” he asked. “We aren’t asking for the investigation to be shut down. We’re asking it to be paused.”
WATCH: Political commentator Janet Brown joins Blake Lough to discuss Jeff Callaway’s attempt to have his probe into the UCP leadership race suspected until after the provincial election.
Petersen said the election commissioner made findings and levied fines prior to the election campaign, not only since the campaign has started. She argued nobody’s life and liberty is at stake because of the investigation and that if anyone feels the penalties imposed by the election commissioner are too harsh, they can file a judicial review.
Petersen also argued that going forward with an injunction would effectively be telling the election commissioner to not do his job.
He’s independent of government,” she said.
Petersen also questioned why Callaway wants the investigation suspended so urgently.
“This investigation didn’t start last week. This started back in January,” Petersen said.
“All of a sudden they need a complete adjournment.”
On Monday night, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker said she would rule on the matter at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
Bernardo asked Kirker to force Gibson to put off witness interviews scheduled for Tuesday until a ruling is handed down on whether to grant Callaway’s request to have the investigation suspended, arguing one of the witnesses is out of province on a honeymoon. However, Kirker said no direction would be issued by her on that matter.
Bernardo then said two of the people scheduled to be interviewed by the election commissioner would not show up on Tuesday and that they would deal with whatever consequences that leaves them with.
The election commissioner has issued numerous fines in connection with financial donations made to Callaway’s 2017 campaign.
Watch below: (From March 27, 2019) Hardyal ‘Happy’ Mann was issued three fines from the Alberta election commissioner in relation to Jeff Callaway’s UCP leadership campaign. Adam MacVicar reports.
Callaway eventually dropped out of the race and endorsed Kenney. Emails obtained by Global News show Kenney’s team communicated closely with Callaway’s team on various aspects of the campaign. The leaked documents include talking points, attack ads and policy issues that could be used against Kenney’s main rival, Brian Jean.
The emails give weight to a theory some have alleged that Callaway only joined the race to attack Jean, before eventually supporting Kenney in the end.
The fines levied by the election commissioner have raised questions about how the Callaway campaign was financed, and a report published by Maclean’s last month shed new light on where tens of thousands of dollars may have come from.
Maclean’s reported 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.
A former UCP MLA and a former UCP nomination candidate — who was recently fined for making improper donations to Callaway’s campaign — have also raised concerns about possible voter fraud having played a role in the 2017 leadership race.
None of the voter fraud allegations have been proven and Kenney has denied any involvement in any logistics like voting structure in the UCP leadership race.
“This is all based on unfounded allegations by a couple of guys motivated by sour grapes, one of whom we threw out of the party — the caucus barred from running — because he had been found by a former judge to have engaged in… ballot stuffing — Mr. [Prab] Gill,” Kenney said. “And by another fellow who we barred from running.
“And the same individual, Mr. [Happy] Mann, has now apparently admitted to violating the Election Finance Contribution Disclosure Act. So these are the sources you have, that people are drawing on. I, for one, don’t take them seriously.”
The RCMP have confirmed to Global News that concerns raised by Gill have been brought to their attention. Last week, Kenney said a UCP legal representative was speaking with the RCMP to offer the party’s assistance as police look into the matter.
Watch below: (From March 18, 2019) 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.
–With files from Global News’ Adam MacVicar and The Canadian Press’ Bill Graveland
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.