Premier Jason Kenney returns to Alberta amid Bill 22 controversy

Click to play video: 'Premier Kenney responds to accusations of obstruction following passage of Bill 22'
Premier Kenney responds to accusations of obstruction following passage of Bill 22
WATCH: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is defending legislation that -- among other things -- fires the Election Commissioner who has been investigating his UCP leadership win. As Blake Lough reports, Kenney says that investigation will continue – Nov 22, 2019

Premier Jason Kenney appeared in front of reporters Friday, for the first time since the political battle over Bill 22 began.

Kenney attended the groundbreaking of a youth mental health facility in Calgary Friday morning, after spending the week in Texas trying to drum up investment.

Click to play video: 'Kenney speaks to media for first time after Bill 22 passed through the legislature'
Kenney speaks to media for first time after Bill 22 passed through the legislature

READ MORE: Bill 22 passes 3rd reading at Alberta legislature; ethics commissioner cannot ‘delay proceedings’

Bill 22, which came into effect Friday, dissolves the officer of the election commissioner, terminating the contract of the province’s election watchdog Lorne Gibson — who was investigating the UCP for violations of election fundraising rules in the 2017 leadership vote won by Kenney.

Story continues below advertisement

“In terms of investigations, it’s very clear that any investigations get back to the chief electoral officer. There’s no reason for any interruption in any investigations in the office of the commissioner,” Kenney said.

“This simply brings the enforcement function back into the office of the chief electoral officer where it resided from 1905 to 2018 and where it resides in every other province.

“I actually think the change strengthens independence of the commissioner because now the commissioner will be appointed by the independent, arms-length chief electoral officer not by politicians.”

Click to play video: 'Opposition leader responds to passage of UCP’s Bill 22'
Opposition leader responds to passage of UCP’s Bill 22

The NDP made several last-ditch attempts to stop the bill.

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley wrote to ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler, asking UCP MLAs be banned from voting on the contentious bill — arguing every UCP caucus member would benefit from Gibson’s contract being terminated.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'UCP deputy whip Joseph Schow on Bill 22'
UCP deputy whip Joseph Schow on Bill 22

Trussler’s response letter — released by the NDP just before the final vote — said she would need more time to investigate, but cautioned that, on the surface, some UCP members could be at risk of a conflict. Trussler added she did not have the power to delay Bill 22 proceedings.

The New Democrats have predicted that Gibson’s firing will have a chilling effect and the investigation will die.

READ MORE: Alberta government firing election commissioner who was investigating leadership

Speaking on Global News at Noon Edmonton on Friday after hearing Kenney’s latest comments, Notley said she thinks his “commentary is intentionally obtuse.”

“He knows full well that when you fire the guy leading the investigation, and then you pass it on to another guy whose whole position is up for renewal in about five months, that there is not a court in the land that would not call that anything other than political interference with the administration of justice,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

“And for him to pretend that’s not true is dishonest and it’s also very, very arrogant.”

Click to play video: 'Rachel Notley on contentious week at the Alberta legislature'
Rachel Notley on contentious week at the Alberta legislature

The UCP has said it’s strictly a cost-saving move and there is nothing stopping a new election commissioner from continuing the investigation.

Kenney said the move saves money — about $1 million over five years — and he expects ongoing investigations will proceed, including the one against the UCP.

“The legislation is clear — in fact I think the government adopted an amendment to make it absolutely clear that any investigation will be carried over to the office of the chief electoral officer,” Kenney said.

“There’s no reason for any interruption in any enforcement action that may be underway.”

Click to play video: 'Kenney returns to Alberta, speaks to reporters about Bill 22 for 1st time'
Kenney returns to Alberta, speaks to reporters about Bill 22 for 1st time

Notley said Friday she believes the average Albertan would rather keep the position in place rather than get rid of it to save $1 million.

Story continues below advertisement

“This from a government that is flying around in private planes, that is jet setting to London to luxury hotels where people get Vitamin C showers. I don’t even know what a Vitamin C shower is, for heaven’s sakes,” she said.

“They’re talking to us about how they need to save money, which is basically the salary of the one guy that was holding them to account as he was asked to do by all members of the legislature. This is a ridiculous explanation and it’s just disrespectful to the very intelligence of Albertans.”

READ MORE: Alberta election commissioner hands down additional $25K in fines in connection to UCP leadership investigation

Notley said her party will continue to fight the bill, by going back to the ethics commissioner to file complaints with respect to everyone who voted on the bill, as well as the premier.

The NDP critic for democracy Heather Sweet also sent a letter to the chief electoral officer asking he provide a report to the legislature on the efforts he will take to secure any and all documents related to any investigations underway.

“We are still going to pursue that very aggressively,” Notley said. “Respect for democracy is a fundamental value, I think, for all Albertans whether you’re on the left or the right or anywhere else on the spectrum.”

Story continues below advertisement

During debate on Bill 22 on Tuesday, Notley was kicked out of the legislature for refusing to apologize after accusing government house leader Jason Nixon of misleading the house.

On Friday, Notley said she expects to be back in the house next week.

“I will be looking at exactly what it is I have to say in order to get back into the chamber because obviously I need to be there to do whatever I can in my role as leader of the Official Opposition. So I anticipate being able to be back into the house on Monday.”

Gibson has levied more than $200,000 in fines to date in connection to fundraising violations tied to the 2017 UCP leadership race.

Gibson, in a public letter, has 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.

— Files from Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press and Emily Mertz, Global News 

Sponsored content