Some public servants say they are effectively barred from participating in political campaigns by a new directive that requires them to disclose any political activity, even on personal time.

Earlier this month, several government departments sent out guidelines to staff about political participation during the provincial election.

One directive, an April 7 memo to Alberta Justice employees, states, "if you are volunteering, even if it is just on your own time, please let your supervisor know."

But the emailed memo from acting deputy minister Kim Armstrong included an attachment which states, "the (deputy minister) must be notified in advance of any political activity by a member of the public service."

One Alberta Justice employee said that directive is new, and goes further than previous election directives. She spoke on the condition of anonymity because she feared being fired. 

"There is absolutely no legitimate reason that the government as a whole, or a deputy minister of a department, would need to know if an individual employee is volunteering on a campaign on their own time," the employee said.

"Obviously, if you are volunteering for a campaign and you want to do so during work hours, you need to take a leave of absence or vacation days," she said. "That makes perfect sense, because you shouldn't be campaigning while getting paid your salary.

"But there is absolutely no legitimate reason for them to know if I am volunteering for the (New Democrats), the Wildrose, or whomever.

"The reason that they have done this, I firmly believe, is because they are trying to put a chill on the possibility of any civil servants volunteering for any of the opposition parties."

Campaigning puts job at risk

After receiving the memo, the employee decided not to volunteer for an opposition party during this election.

"It was very clear to me that I would be potentially putting my job at risk if I were to be known to be campaigning for anybody other than the Tories," she said.

Marlin Schmidt, the NDP candidate in Edmonton Goldbar, said as a public servant he routinely received reminders at the beginning of election campaigns outlining the "do's and don'ts."

This time, he noticed the additional requirement of "informing your supervisor.

"That's an entirely new requirement that I haven't seen before," said Schmidt, a government geologist for the past seven years, who is on a leave during the campaign.

"This is a significant limitation to a person's participation in the democratic process that would prevent a lot of people from participating (in a campaign) for fear of retribution."  

Code of conduct reminder

A spokesman for the Alberta Public Service Commission said the directive is a reminder to public servants to observe the code of conduct.

Kim Capstick said staff are asked to inform their deputy minister any time they volunteer for an activity, not just a political activity.

"That clause is in place to ensure the public servant is protected from any kind of accusation of misappropriation of information after the fact," Capstick said. "It is just meant for the deputy head to have an awareness and monitor for inappropriate activity, or what could be perceived as inappropriate activity".

Capstick said it doesn't restrict political activity, but instead reflects the code of conduct that encourages volunteering and community engagement.

She said public servants are not required to disclose the party for which they intend to work.

But another long-time Alberta Justice employee pointed out that it would be easy to determine if he is working as a volunteer for the Tory party. And by deduction, it would therefore be equally easy to figure out if he was working for an opposition party.

The employee said he has no intention of complying with the directive.

Schmidt said if he were not running, and received the memo, he would ignore it.

"It is implied here that you are seeking permission for political activity. That is an unfair restriction on somebody's fundamental human rights."