Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman says he will ask Alberta’s chief electoral officer and its ethics commissioner to investigate political donations to Premier Alison Redford and the Conservative Party, from a coalition of construction companies.
Sherman was responding to a CBC News story Thursday which revealed a lobbyist for the coalition had linked large political donations and access to Redford. The Liberal leader told a news conference he will file the complaints because "it is imperative to discover whether any laws or ethical standards were violated.
"How can we reasonably expert ordinary hard-working Albertans to have any confidence in the operations of our government and the integrity of the Alberta democratic process when the system in itself is not trustworthy, when the system is for sale," Sherman said.
Documents obtained through Freedom of Information by the Alberta Federation of Labour, and provided first to CBC News, reveal aggressive lobbying of the government by the Construction Competitiveness Coalition. The coalition represents large construction companies including Ledcor and PCL, as well as anti-union groups like Merit Contractors Association. The association wants major changes to Alberta’s labour code.
An email from coalition lobbyist Tom Brown to Hunter Wight, executive director of Redford’s Calgary office, notes that Redford met with the coalition during the Tory leadership race.
Brown says Redford "expressed strong support for our objectives and promised quick action when elected. This was further underscored by commitments published in the PC election platform."
Executive Linked Large Donations to Access
But Brown also stressed that Ledcor, PCL and other members of the coalition had made large political donations to both Redford’s leadership campaign and the PC election campaign. And he said there would be "considerable disappointment and possibly misgivings" if he didn’t get an answer about a meeting with Redford within a week.
Brown told CBC News in an email that he was not speaking for the coalition and the coalition never expected, or received, preferential access in return for donations.
On Wednesday, Redford told CBC News that Wight did not respond to Brown’s demand for a meeting, and, in fact, no meeting took place after the election. In the legislature Thursday, Redford, responding to opposition questions, said no one received special access in return for donations.
"That is a good system," Redford said. "That is what we are proud of. That is what change looks like."
Human Services Minister Dave Hancock insisted all stakeholders are being equally consulted through a mediator who is reviewing potential labour-law changes. He stressed no changes will be implemented without broad, transparent discussions.
Unions call for suspension of review
But at a news conference Thursday, Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said the contents of the documents showed the government had been biased in favour of construction companies in the labour-code review. He called for the review to be immediately suspended.
"The process has been compromised," McGowan said. "We think that Albertans should be concerned about the methods that have been used by these lobbyists, and the apparent willingness of top officials to give preferential treatment to groups that have made significant political donations."
The chief electoral officer is now conducting an investigation into a $430,000 donation made by Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz to the Tory party during the last election. Well-known Calgary Tory fundraiser Barry Heck is reported to have brokered that donation.
In this case involving the construction coalition, the documents show that it was also Heck who introduced Ledcor’s Tom Brown to Hunter Wight, who heads Redford’s Calgary office.
Redford is also now the subject of a conflict-of-interest investigation by Alberta’s ethics commissioner following another CBC News investigation last year. It revealed she had personally chosen a Calgary law firm with close personal and political ties for a potentially lucrative contract to sue tobacco companies on behalf of Alberta. Redford has denied making that decision.
It’s not known when either the Katz donation investigation or the Redford conflict investigation will be completed.