Alberta’s Opposition NDP is asking the ethics commissioner to ban the entire United Conservative caucus from voting on a bill that would fire the province’s election watchdog.
Leader Rachel Notley says UCP caucus members are all in a conflict of interest because they would all benefit from having Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson’s contract terminated.
“Every single member of the governing party has something to gain from having this investigation quashed or brushed aside,” Notley said Wednesday.
Gibson is currently investigating the UCP for violations of election fundraising rules in the 2017 leadership vote won by Jason Kenney before he became premier.
Gibson has already levied more than $200,000 in fines.
Notley said UCP legislature members shouldn’t vote on Bill 22 because they benefit directly from the party’s electoral success and that this success could be jeopardized by Gibson’s investigation.
She noted time is of the essence.
The bill was in second reading late Tuesday night and was to be debated Wednesday. The government has given itself the option to limit debate time at each stage.
MLAs debated Bill 22 late into Wednesday night and into the following morning, before it passed second reading and the committee of the whole. Debate is expected to continue Thursday.
Notley said the government has indicated it wants the bill passed before Friday. She said it could be done as early as Thursday morning.
The election commissioner, currently an independent officer of the legislature, focuses on violations of election fundraising and advertising.
Bill 22 would fire Gibson and move the election commissioner job back under the auspices of Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler.
The UCP said this is strictly a cost-saving move and there is nothing stopping the new election commissioner from continuing the investigations.
“We’ve been clear that the chief electoral officer will have full independent authority to pursue any matter — current or otherwise — as he sees fit, in line with existing Alberta law,” Christine Myatt, Kenney’s spokesperson, said in a statement.
“It is patently ridiculous to claim that all MLAs — including NDP MLAs who also stand for election — are somehow in a conflict of interest.
“We will not speak to a hypothetical on a vote that has not yet occurred.”
Kenney has been on a trade mission to Texas this week.
The NDP are attempting to stop Bill 22 in other ways. They have also written to Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell asking her to intervene on the grounds that they believe the bill is an abuse of privilege by Kenney’s government.
Mitchell’s signature is needed to proclaim the bill and make it law.
The NDP has also threatened to hold up the work of the public accounts committee, which they control and provides oversight on spending, until Gibson testifies before it.
Gibson, in a public letter issued Tuesday, said his office has received more than 800 complaints of election irregularities, and he is concerned that his dismissal will undermine faith in the independence and integrity of the election process.
Notley was not in the house Wednesday.
She was ordered out of the chamber Tuesday by Speaker Nathan Cooper when she refused to apologize after accusing government house leader Jason Nixon of misleading the house on Bill 22.
Notley said Cooper’s office has made it clear to her that she must apologize before she will be allowed back, and she hasn’t decided when to deal with that.
She said even if Kenney’s caucus pulls the bill, the premier has still earned the dubious title of “the most corrupt and anti-democratic premier in the history of the country” by virtue of having introduced it.
Notley said she can’t find another example in Canada where a premier or prime minister shut down a quasi-judicial inquiry into his or her actions.
LISTEN: Rachel Notley joins Ryan Jespersen to discuss her opposition to the UCP government’s Bill 22 that fires the Alberta Election Commissioner during an investigation into the UCP leadership campaign
Nixon said Wednesday the UCP was not trying to push through the legislation.
“Last night, I believe it was over four hours of debate on Bill 22. I expect there will be several more hours of debate yet today and debate well into tomorrow.”
Nixon also shot down the suggestion that the UCP was trying to pass Bill 22 before a Standing Committee meeting at which Gibson was scheduled to speak.
“The only thing that’s discussed at the Standing Committee of legislative offices in these appearances by independent officers of the legislature is their budgets,” Nixon said. “Certainly, Mr. Gibson would not be talking about any investigations.”
— With files from Global’s Emily Mertz