The Alberta government has backed away from a controversial directive that required public servants to report political activity during the current provincial election, even if it was on their own time.

Conservative Leader Jim Prentice reacted angrily to a CBC News story published Tuesday morning about the government-wide directive issued by the Public Service Commission.

"This morning, CBC News brought to our attention an issue involving the participation of public servants in political activities," Prentice posted on Facebook.

"CBC is absolutely correct to raise this concern. This administrative directive is ridiculous and offensive," he said.

"Anyone who works for the Government of Alberta has the right to volunteer on political campaigns on their own time and I encourage them to do so."

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean agrees with Prentice's assessment of the directive.

"I think it's offensive as well," he said. "When the public service is at home, I think it's their business what they do with their time. 

"After 44 years of the same government, they think the bureaucracy belongs to the PC party of Alberta. And it doesn't. The public service belongs to the public."

As CBC News reported this morning, some public servants complained they had been effectively barred from participating in political campaigns by a new directive that required 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.

An April 7 memo to Alberta Justice employees stated that if they "were 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 told public servants "the (deputy minister) must be notified in advance of any political activity by a member of the public service."

Public Service Commission spokeswoman Kim Capstick initially told CBC News the directive didn't restrict political activity, and that it was simply a reminder to public servants to observe the code of conduct "that encourages volunteering and community engagement."

Capstick said public servants were not required to disclose the party for which they intend to work. 

But one public servant pointed out it would be easy to determine if he was volunteering for the ruling Conservative party, and by deduction, if he was working for an opposition party. He said he was ignoring the directive.

An Alberta Justice employee told CBC News she decided not to volunteer for an opposition party because she believed it could negatively affect her career, and even her future employment.

This morning, CBC News brought to our attention an issue involving the participation of public servants in political...

Posted by Jim Prentice on Tuesday, 14 April 2015

On Tuesday morning, Capstick told CBC News the Public Service Commission wished to clarify its position.

She said government employees would only have to notify their deputy minister of volunteer political activity if it:

  • caused an actual or apparent conflict of interest;
  • was performed in such a way as to appear to be an official act, or to represent a government opinion or policy;
  • interfered - through telephone calls, or otherwise - with regular duties or;
  • involved the use of government premises, equipment or supplies, unless such use is otherwise authorized. 

"If volunteering falls outside these criteria, there is no need for notification," Capstick said, adding that "this will be clarified with deputy ministers to ensure there is no confusion about the intention of the guidelines."