Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis will introduce legislation this fall which will end the secrecy surrounding who made illegal political donations.
In an email to CBC News, the minister’s press secretary, Josh Stewart, confirmed the minister will introduce legislation during this fall’s sitting of the legislature. It will allow Chief Electoral Officer Brian Fjeldheim to release information from his ongoing investigation into illegal political donations, including who was penalized and what the penalties were.
Fjeldheim launched his investigation last year after a series of CBC stories revealed widespread illegal political donations to the ruling Conservative party by municipalities, post-secondary institutions and other corporations banned, by law, from using public money for political purposes.
Fjeldheim has already issued penalties to illegal donors. But that information is not public because former justice minister Alison Redford, now Alberta’s premier, passed amendments which effectively gagged the chief electoral officer from releasing it.
Denis blamed secrecy on previous chief electoral officer
When Wildrose MLA Shane Saskiw questioned Denis about the gag law in the legislature in March, the justice minister claimed the law had been changed at the request of former chief electoral officer Lorne Gibson.
"We are just following the law that the chief electoral officer requested that we put in," Denis told the legislature.
But when contacted by CBC News, both Gibson and Drew Westwater, a spokesman for Fjeldheim, denied any such request had been made. Gibson asked only that the legislation be updated to keep private the details of his investigations while they were underway - but he never sought to keep secret the penalties assessed, and the identities of those penalized.
Chief electoral officer asked to make recommendations
Denis subsequently asked Fjeldheim to provide him with recommendations on how elections law should be changed.
Outside of an all-committee meeting of the legislature Thursday, Fjeldheim told CBC News he had given Denis his recommendations last week, included a recommendation related to the law that now bars him from publicly releasing the outcome of his investigation into illegal political donations.
"This I believe would require changes to the Election Act and the Elections Finances and Disclosure Act," Fjeldheim said, adding that these changes would have to be introduced, and debated, in the legislature.
Denis’ press secretary, Josh Stewart, said the minister can’t discuss the details of legislation before it is introduced in the legislature, so it is not known if the legislation will be retroactive.
If it is not retroactive, the public may never know which people or organizations made illegal political donations.