Alberta’s chief electoral officer is contradicting claims from the government of Premier Alison Redford that it passed a law on the recommendation of his predecessor to keep secret the details of fines against various organizations that made illegal political donations.
"(Former chief electoral officer) Lorne Gibson only made a recommendation on keeping private the investigation," said Drew Westwater, spokesman for current CEO Brian Fjeldheim.
"When the legislation was drafted and passed by the (legislature), it was extended to prohibit that (information) being released once the investigation was concluded. But that was not the recommendation of the CEO."
Westwater said if the government wishes that information to be made public, "then if there is an amendment to the legislation, then that can happen." But he said Fjeldheim does not believe it is his job to advocate for policy changes.
The secrecy issue arose in the legislature Monday when Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw asked Redford to change the law to allow release of the names of the dozens of municipalities, post-secondary institutions and other banned corporations that the CEO found had made illegal donations to the Conservative party.
It is illegal for any publicly funded organization to make political donations.
In response to Saskiw’s questions, both Justice Minister Jonathan Denis and Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk said information about these illegal political contributions is kept secret based on Gibson’s recommendation.
Denis claims former chief electoral officer requested law
"We must go back to the facts," Denis told the legislature Monday.
"Back in 2008, the legislation was changed. Why? Because at the request of the chief electoral officer at that time. If he has other recommendations, I am happy to go look at them. But we are just following the law that the chief electoral officer requested that we put in."
Lukaszuk responded to a follow-up question with a similar answer.
In the legislature Tuesday, Saskiw asked Speaker Gene Zwozdesky to rule on a point of privilege that Denis had misled the legislature. Zwozdesky promised to issue his ruling Wednesday.
CBC reviewed the recommendations made by Gibson to the legislative assembly in his extensive report on the 2008 election. Gibson recommended the government "add specific direction (by law) that an investigation be conducted in private." But there is no mention anywhere in the report of keeping private the results of concluded investigations.
A source with direct knowledge of Gibson’s recommendations confirmed there was no such recommendation. The source also said Gibson held no private talks related to a secrecy law with a minister, the Conservative caucus, or any bureaucrat responsible for drafting legislation.
Spokesmen for Denis and Lukaszuk did not respond to a CBC request to produce documents showing Gibson sought a law to keep private the outcome of completed investigations.
CBC investigation uncovered illegal political donations
Fjeldheim began his investigation last fall after a CBC News investigation uncovered evidence of numerous illegal political donations. Both the Wildrose and the Liberals subsequently exposed dozens of instances of illegal donations and filed formal complaints with Fjeldheim’s office.
Fjeldheim has been occasionally reporting on the progress of his investigation.
Last week, he issued a release stating his office had concluded 59 of 79 cases. In 28 cases, he issued administrative fines equal to the amount of the donation.
Thirteen donors or recipients were censured because allegations were "partly well founded."
It’s not known when Fjeldheim’s investigation will be completed.