Political donations probes straining electoral office

Alberta's chief electoral officer told a legislative committee he needs more money to keep up with an unprecedented number of investigations into illegal political donations.
Brian Fjeldheim was challenged by MLAs at a legislature committee on Friday 2:12

Alberta's chief electoral officer told a legislative committee on Friday that he needs more money to keep up with an unprecedented number of investigations into illegal political donations.

The cost of investigations — including the probe into allegations that billionaire Daryl Katz cut a $430,000 cheque towards the Progressive Conservatives election campaign — have already tallied nearly half a million dollars, Brian Fjeldheim said.

Fjeldheim told the committee that his office has already issued a number of fines against people and organizations, fines that are secret under current laws.

A series of CBC News investigations revealed that municipalities, colleges and other publicly funded institutions made illegal donations to the provincial Tory party for years.

Brian Fjeldheim , Alberta's chief electoral officer, said his office needs more money. (CBC)

If changes to made to Alberta's election legislation are proclaimed by Jan. 1st, the public will find out details in about twenty cases.

MLAs on the committee asked Fjeldheim to explain why he's never recommended prosecution in any of the files that he has investigated.

"I'm definitely not against prosecution — if it's going to stick and we're going to win," he said.

Fjeldheim was also challenged about his independence from the governing Progressive Conservative party. He replied that he does not talk to any political parties about what actions he chooses to take.

But opposition MLAs questioned how independent he really is.

"I think Mr. Fjeldheim believes that he is impartial, but this is a culture that is highly politicized in Alberta," said Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman.

"We're looking at over 2,000 violations of his legislation and we have seen not one prosecution," NDP MLA Rachel Notley said. "And that is a problem."

Fjeldheim was chastized for not passing on recommended changes to the election act with all MLAs, not just the committee chair, who didn't share it with others.

David Xiao, the Tory MLA who chairs the committee, said the omission was an honest mistake.