Alberta Tory riding association illegally solicited donations

An Alberta Conservative riding association illegally solicited donations from groups banned by law from giving money to political parties.
Tournament organizer Jane Palmer introduces Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA Ray Danyluk at the Cormorant Classic Golf Tournament. (Courtesy Lac La Biche Post)

An Alberta Conservative riding association admits it solicited donations from groups banned by law from giving money to political parties.

A CBC News investigation found the Lac La Biche–St. Paul riding association received money from 11 corporations barred by the provincial Election Finances Act from making political donations.

Those corporations include the Buffalo Lake Metis Settlement, Portage College and the Lac La Biche branch of ATB Financial.

"We have always felt that we have a situation in Alberta that is very unhealthy," Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said.

"I think that is the kind of thing that causes the public to lose faith in politicians and lose faith in the political process."

Under the provincial Election Finances Act, it is illegal for a political party to solicit, or accept, money from any group that receives provincial or federal funding, such as municipalities, Crown corporations, post-secondary institutions, and Metis settlements.

Municipalities illegally donated to Tory party

In October, CBC News revealed the town of St. Paul had illegally spent taxpayer money to send its chief administrative officer, mayor and two councillors to the Cormorant Classic, a golf-tournament fundraiser for Conservative MLA Ray Danyluk.

After the story appeared, CBC was told that many other municipalities had made political donations to the Tory party.

The opposition Liberals say they have documented 25 separate cases in which municipalities supported the Conservatives.

At the time, Premier Alison Redford blamed municipal politicians for not following the rules.

"Municipal leaders, who are also elected by their communities, have a responsibility to follow the rules," Redford told the legislature.

"There is no doubt that auditors who are in place understand the rules, and I fully expect that everyone who is elected and fully engage in auditing should understand the rules well enough to make sure that these things are not happening."

But several barred organizations told CBC News they received solicitations from fundraisers for Danyluk’s golf tournament.

And in the case of ATB Financial, ATB officials say the fundraisers persisted even after being told the publicly owned bank was barred by law from supporting the Tory event.

The ATB refused to be interviewed, but in an email, ATB spokesman Barry Strader said the bank’s branch manager in Lac La Biche received a mass email from tournament organizer Jane Palmer.

The manager replied that the ATB could not, by law, financially support the event, said Strader.

ATB donates to library through Tory party

The manager was told the ATB could make a donation to a local library charity through the Cormorant Classic fundraiser, Strader said.

At that time, Friends of the Library was raising money for a library within the new Bold Centre in Lac La Biche.

The library’s chief fundraiser was the same Jane Palmer. She later also served as master of ceremonies for the golf tournament. She declined to speak with CBC News.

Strader said Palmer later called the manager. He told her he had already written a $200 cheque to the Cormorant Classic with explicit instructions that it go the library. The money was eventually donated to the library.

Local Tory riding association president Don Schultz said he was told by provincial PC headquarters to refund money to the ATB and 10 other banned corporations.

But when he tried to return the money to ATB, he was told to instead send the money to the Lac La Biche Library, Schultz said.

Danielle Smith wonders why the ATB manager didn’t simply write the cheque directly to the library.

"You have two different stories on the table," she said. "In either case, someone has done something wrong.

"Either the people who are soliciting money on behalf of the PC party did so under false pretences and they were soliciting it from a group that should not have given money under the Elections (Finances) Act, or you have a situation where the ATB is giving money, knowing that they should not."

College admits mistake

Portage College received an invitation to the Cormorant Classic. The invitation prominently featured a photo of Ray Danyluk and specifically stated the event was sponsored by the local Tory riding association.

But Leona Geller, the college’s manager of public relations, said it never occurred to her that it was a partisan event.

"I thought it was a good networking opportunity and said, ‘Go with it.’"

Portage College sent six people to the fundraiser, including College president Trent Keough, at a cost of $750. Minus $150 for a steak supper and green fees, the college received a $600 refund from the Tory riding association.

"I made a mistake," Geller said. "But I will tell you that from here on in, after this incident, our policies and procedures of the college will be scrutinized and rewritten to ensure this never happens again."

In October, the Wildrose party filed a complaint with Brian Fjeldheim, Alberta’s chief electoral officer, about municipalities making illegal political donations. That is now being investigated. The party plans to file another complaint about improper solicitation.