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Elections Alberta backtracks on decision not to name people, organizations fined for violating law

Click to play video: 'Elections Alberta updates disclosure policy after election commissioner change' Elections Alberta updates disclosure policy after election commissioner change
As the election commissioner role moves from one of an independent officer into Elections Alberta, it's prompted the agency to update its disclosure policy. Tom Vernon explains – Nov 28, 2019

Alberta’s election agency has decided to adopt the former election commissioner’s practice of publishing the names of those fined for violating the election finances act.

The move comes after the Opposition NDP cried foul when Elections Alberta posted updated investigations results earlier this week, in which the names of those fined were withheld.

All of this comes less than a week after the UCP government passed Bill 22, dissolving the Office of the Election Commissioner and firing the independent election commissioner Lorne Gibson. The duties of the office are now under the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer.

READ MORE: Kenney spars with Notley over firing of Alberta election watchdog

The controversial bill led to outrage from the Official Opposition, as Gibson had been investigating the 2017 UCP leadership race, which now-Premier Jason Kenney won. The UCP maintains the move is about saving money and that all ongoing investigations will continue under Elections Alberta.

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Click to play video: 'Rachel Notley on contentious week at the Alberta legislature' Rachel Notley on contentious week at the Alberta legislature
Rachel Notley on contentious week at the Alberta legislature – Nov 22, 2019

Gibson’s investigation into a so-called kamikaze campaign by leadership candidate Jeff Callaway has led to more than $211,000 in fines to date.

READ MORE: Court documents shed light on allegations in UCP leadership campaign

In a statement Wednesday night, Elections Alberta said it posted updated investigations results earlier this week, for investigations that started before the Office of the Election Commissioner was formed in July 2018. The results were posted without the names of those fined.

Elections Alberta said Wednesday night this format follows the one in place before Gibson’s appointment last year.

LISTEN: Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley joins Rob Breakenridge to discuss the reversal to publish names of election act violators

“This disclosure followed the format that has historically been used by the office, which does not include individual names,” Elections Alberta spokesperson Pamela Renwick said in a statement.

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Renwick acknowledged that the decision “created an inconsistency with how the former Election Commissioner disclosed investigation results,” and said a review of disclosure practices would be done.

In a statement Wednesday night, NDP Leader Rachel Notley said “this is a continuation of Jason Kenney’s effort to cover up his misdeeds and those of his UCP party members, who apparently find it impossible to follow Alberta’s election laws.

“This is yet another reason why we must continue pressing this premier about what he is working so hard to keep hidden from Albertans.”

Notley and her party called on the Chief Electoral Officer to resume Gibson’s naming practice.

On Thursday morning, the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer sent out a new release stating the move not to publicly release names of those fined “prompted questions and concerns regarding future disclosure.” As such, it has decided to revert back to the way the election commissioner was disclosing this information.

“In our review of this matter, we have determined that for all investigations, disclosure will include all components found in the former election commissioner’s disclosure, including the names of individuals,” read a statement from the Officer of the Chief Electoral Officer.

The office said it will re-post the information published earlier this week to include the names of those fined or reprimanded.

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READ MORE: Premier Jason Kenney returns to Alberta amid Bill 22 controversy

​A statement from UCP House Leader Jason Nixon’s press secretary Wednesday said the government did not make any changes regarding disclosure when it passed Bill 22.

“The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) is independent and makes his own decision,” Jess Sinclair said. “The CEO was reappointed by the NDP government. We trust his ability to enforce the law.”

Glen Resler, the chief electoral officer, attended Friday’s meeting of the standing committee on legislative offices and answered questions from all parties.

He said his office has received 816 complaints since its inception; 38 of which are currently being analyzed, 11 are investigations that are underway, and 76 of them are still awaiting assignment (to an investigator). The files are dealt with chronologically and the oldest of these 76 complaints dates back prior to the provincial election.

Resler was asked if he thinks the office has enough resources to investigate outstanding complaints without the help of the election commissioner.

“I believe we do,” he replied. “We also contract investigators to deal with the ebbs and valleys of investigations themselves.”

NDP MLA Heather Sweet shared concerns she’s heard from Albertans about how Bill 22 will impact the transfer of open investigations and related documents.

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“Currently, nothing has changed as a result of Bill 22,” Resler said. “The office remains in place… the records are still in the custody of the office.”

He explained staff of the elections office — which he stressed is independent, non-partisan and does not report to a minister — will continue to secure and maintain those records. Then, when the time comes to amalgamate the two offices, there will be processes established to ensure the documents are properly backed up, secured and there’s no risk of losing them.

“Steps have already been taken to preserve those records held by the commissioner and to ensure the public trust.”

Resler was also there, with other members of the Elections Alberta team, to present the office’s $8.7-million budget for next year, which was approved by the committee.

Earlier this week, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said the UCP government plans to introduce electoral reforms in the new year.

“Right now, we’re working on a broader package of electoral reform — we intend on bringing forward different ideas in 2020,” Schweitzer said.

Click to play video: 'Alberta justice minister answers questions about plans for electoral reform' Alberta justice minister answers questions about plans for electoral reform
Alberta justice minister answers questions about plans for electoral reform – Nov 27, 2019

— With files from Emily Mertz, Global News

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