Former United Conservative Party leadership candidate Jeff Callaway has filed a court challenge against a ruling by Alberta’s election commissioner that he pay back campaign donations.
Commissioner Lorne Gibson is currently investigating irregular campaign contributions to Callaway’s leadership campaign. In a letter dated March 11, Gibson ordered Callaway to repay $25,600 in contributions.
According to new court documents obtained by Global News, Callaway believes the election commissioner is biased in relation to the investigation.
Callaway is seeking a court order to stay the repayment order until a full hearing is held to determine if Gibson has overstepped the powers of his office under the Elections Act and the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.
“The EC incorrectly, or in the alternative, unreasonably, exercised his powers under the EFCDA and the EA by issuing the order,” read court documents filed by Callaway’s laywer, Ivan Bernardo.
According to the commissioner’s letter, the investigation’s findings revealed the amount of contributions to Callaway’s campaign violated election legislation.
The letter also stated that Callaway must repay the money to the “actual contributors” within 15 days of receiving the order, and provide to the commissioner the identities and contact information of those contributors, the circumstances around their contributions, how they were received, and any documentation of the transactions.
According to the documents filed by Bernardo, Callaway was not given an opportunity to speak to the investigation prior to the order being sent. Bernardo also argued the time limit was unreasonable.
“The EC knew or ought to have known that would be impossible for Mr. Callaway to comply with.”
“By issuing the order, the EC made adverse findings against Mr. Callaway during an ongoing investigation that has not been concluded which contravenes duty of fairness, the principles of natural justice and Mr. Callaway’s right to due process,” the documents read.
Callaway is also seeking a ruling to declare the election commissioner’s order is incorrect or unreasonable.
The election commissioner’s investigation began after allegations surfaced of what’s been dubbed a “kamikaze campaign” that saw Callaway run in the 2017 UCP leadership race to target Brian Jean, Jason Kenney’s main opponent, and then drop out of the race to throw his support behind Kenney.
Throughout the campaign, Kenney has denied his involvement in the scheme.
But emails released to local media, including Global News, show ongoing contact during the 2017 leadership race between the Kenney and Callaway campaigns — including Kenney staffers – providing strategic direction, attack ads, speaking notes, speeches and media support to the Callaway campaign.
The RCMP have confirmed they are looking into allegations of possible wrongdoing in connection with the Callaway campaign. In late March, Kenney said a UCP lawyer had reached out to the RCMP.
Two weeks ago, Callaway filed an injunction seeking the court to halt the election commissioner’s investigation into his campaign financing, arguing it was biased, and that sections of the legislation were unconstitutional.
That injunction was denied.
On April 3, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker said that although it is important for the election commissioner to avoid bias or the appearance of bias, it’s in the public interest for the investigation to continue.
“The commissioner faces statutorily mandated time limits to complete his investigation. Granting an interlocutory injunction risks those time limits running out before the issues in dispute are finally resolved,” Kirker said.
“Even if there were evidence of irreparable harm to the applicants, it would be, in my view, outweighed by the interests of the public in having investigation of the complaint involving the applicants completed.”
Global News reached out for comment, but was told the election commissioner does not comment on investigations that it may, or may not, be conducting.
Watch below: Ongoing Global News coverage of the investigation into the 2017 UCP leadership race