By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on November 27, 2019.
It’s usually wise to take attacks by opposition leaders on governments with a grain of salt. Exaggeration is the order of the day.
But in the case of the firing of Alberta’s election commissioner by Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party, opposition leader Rachel Notley’s remarks appear to be spot on.
It’s “an attack on Alberta’s democracy,” she said. It “reeks of political interference. It reeks of corruption.”
It’s hard to argue with that considering the election commissioner, Lorne Gibson, was smack dab in the middle of an investigation of Kenney’s UCP party for alleged fraud when the government introduced legislation to dissolve his office.
Indeed, Gibson’s investigation into the so-called “kamikaze” campaign of UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway has already led to fines against 15 people totalling $207,000.
At the centre of it all was an allegation that Callaway and Kenney had an agreement that Callaway would run as a straw man and attack Kenney’s main opponent for the UCP leadership, Brian Jean. Callaway would then drop out at the last minute and endorse Kenney, which, in fact, he did.
That sounds like a far-fetched scheme. But it seems much less so in light of emails obtained by CBC News that show, says the news service, that “high-ranking Kenney officials providing resources, including strategic political direction, media, and debate talking points, speeches, videos and attack advertisements, to the Callaway campaign.”
What else Gibson may have been onto remains unknown. But as Notley says of the untimely firing of Gibson: “You can only wonder what it is the UCP is trying to hide from Albertans in these investigations.”
And to add fuel to the fire, one must also wonder why the UCP is limiting debate on the bill that enables it to shut Gibson’s office down, if it truly has nothing to hide.
If the main purpose of the bill is to save taxpayers’ money by transferring his office’s responsibilities to Elections Alberta, as Finance Minister Travis Toews claims, then why not debate it till the cows come home and revel in the efficiencies he has found?
Perhaps because it’s difficult to argue convincingly about savings when the Kenney government is spending $2 million on a public inquiry into foreign funding of environmental activism and another $30 million on a so-called energy “war room” to respond to environmental activism and media reporting that the government deems to be “misinformation.”
All this amounts to an abuse of power designed to silence dissident opinion. And Gibson’s firing is particularly outrageous.
“They’re actually using the power of the state to silence an independent body that’s simply enforcing election and campaign finance law,” Melanee Thomas, a University of Calgary political scientist, told the Star. “This is corrupt.”
What can be done?
For now Notley is doing what she can to raise hell about it. Last Tuesday she was kicked out of the legislative chamber in Edmonton after she accused Government House Leader Jason Nixon of making misleading statements about why Gibson’s office is being closed.
And she has asked Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell to refuse to sign the bill when it passes.
None of this has a chance of stopping a majority government that has already demonstrated little respect for democratic institutions and open debate.
But Kenney may learn, as Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford did, that the tide can quickly turn against even the most popular of leaders.
In the meantime, Elections Alberta should take a stand for fair elections by hiring Gibson and his staff back so they can complete their investigation.
This is an affront to democracy that will not easily be swept under the rug – majority government or not.
An editorial from the Toronto Star