Alberta justice minister needs to be fired after latest UCP government scandal. It's that simple

The fact that Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu phoned Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee to discuss his own traffic ticket 10 months ago is a fireable offence, according to Graham Thomson.

Kaycee Madu's actions are yet another example of a shocking lack of judgment by ministers, says Graham Thomson

A man wearing glasses and a suit stands in front of Alberta and Canada flags.
Kaycee Madu, Alberta's justice minister and solicitor general, is the United Conservative Party's only MLA in Edmonton. (Peter Evans/CBC)

This column is an opinion from Graham Thomson, an award-winning journalist who has covered Alberta politics for more than 30 years. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

It's the phone call.

It's not the traffic ticket or even whether Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu was guilty of driving through a school zone while distracted by his cell phone.

It's the fact that Madu phoned Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee to discuss his own traffic ticket in the first place.

That's not just a slap-on-the-wrist lapse in judgment, it's a fireable offence for a justice minister.

Actually, it's a fireable infraction for any cabinet minister. The fact that the justice minister is involved makes it outrageous.

We have a long-held convention in Canadian politics that politicians, particularly cabinet ministers, do not interfere, or even give the appearance they might be interfering, in the justice system.

In 1990, for example, federal cabinet minister Jean Charest was forced to resign from cabinet as Minister of State for Amateur Sport after he phoned a judge in a case involving the Canadian Track and Field Association.

This latest scandal to hit the Alberta government is all the more outrageous because Premier Jason Kenney hasn't actually fired Madu or asked for his resignation.

In a Twitter thread Monday evening, Kenney acknowledged Madu had crossed a line and the premier expressed his "profound disappointment" in his justice minister's behaviour.

However, Kenney has merely asked Madu to "step back from his ministerial duties" and take a "leave of absence" while a "respected independent investigator" reviews the facts "to determine whether there was interference in the administration of justice in this case."

Madu has been dropped from cabinet but, then again, it appears he has been dropped onto a trampoline.

Kenney seems to be setting the stage for Madu to bounce right back.

You could easily imagine an investigation that concluded the phone call was inappropriate but did not reach the level of "interference" because Madu did not explicitly ask for the ticket to be quashed.

You have to think Kenney is treating Madu gently because the once-and-possibly-future justice minister is the UCP's only MLA in Edmonton.

Edmonton police chief Dale McFee told CBC News in December that Madu had called him about the distracted driving ticket, but "he never asked to get out of the ticket." (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

If Kenney wants to regain ground in the capital city in next year's provincial election, it'd be helpful if Madu was in cabinet, not languishing in political obscurity.

Then there's the fact Kenney hates admitting that he or any of his ministers have made mistakes. Just look at how he handled the Aloha-gate scandal a year ago or the Sky Palace affair in June or the Devin Dreeshen disaster last November.

In every case, Kenney dragged his feet before taking action.

He waited days before booting Tracy Allard from cabinet for travelling to Hawaii over the Christmas holidays; same with Dreeshen, who was forced to resign after stories broke about heavy drinking in his office; and Kenney took a week before admitting he broke pandemic rules while enjoying a boozy al fresco dinner with cabinet colleagues.

In every case, Kenney and his ministers displayed a shocking lack of judgment. But arguably none more so than Madu. 

Then there's the troubling question swirling around the halls of the legislature: when did Kenney find out about Madu's phone call to the police chief?

If Kenney knew last March, when Madu made the phone call about the ticket, then he is as culpable as Madu. The same goes if Kenney found out any time before Monday and didn't act.

If Kenney — a famous micromanager who has his fingers in pretty much all government pies — can convince us he did not know of Madu's blunder until CBC reported it, you have to wonder what the heck is going on inside his government.

In a Calgary Herald column Monday night, veteran columnist Don Braid wrote, "the ticket episode was widely known in cabinet circles and talked about in jocular tones."

If that's the case, it would seem nobody in cabinet had a problem with Madu's behaviour. Or perhaps they just thought he got a ticket, not that he called the police chief.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks after the United Conservative Party annual meeting in Calgary on Nov. 21. On Wednesday, Kenney spoke to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce for the first time since the start of the pandemic. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press)

In that case, we still have the troubling fact that for the past 10 months we had a justice minister who demonstrated breathtaking ignorance or arrogance.

Either Madu had no idea he was trampling on political and justice conventions by phoning the police chief, or he simply didn't care.

Madu is a lawyer. You'd have to think he knew better. So, let's go with arrogance.

It's a trait that fits neatly into the mindset of a government that routinely gaslights Albertans, demonizes opponents and, in one infamously calamitous case, tossed aside caution and declared July/August of 2021 would be the "best summer ever."

Madu issued a statement Monday pointing out he phoned McFee not to ask that the ticket be quashed but to raise concerns about racial profiling and to ensure he, a Black man, was not being "unlawfully surveilled."

Should a justice minister be concerned about racial profiling by police in terms of systemic racism? Absolutely.

Should a justice minister – who is also solicitor general and therefore responsible for law enforcement in the province – call a police chief to discuss his personal traffic ticket? Absolutely not.

Again, the ticket itself is not the issue. Admittedly, Madu being handed a $300 ticket for using his cell phone while driving through a school zone is not a good look for a justice minister.

But it would have been survivable for a politician who admitted making a mistake, pledging it would never happen again and demonstrating that he, like the rest of us, is not above the law.

He did none of that.

Madu has denied the charge of distracted driving, but rather than challenge the fine, he paid it a few days later.

Rubbing salt in the wound for the rest of us is realizing the government is making changes to the justice system effective Feb. 1 that will scrap traffic court and force us to pay up to $150 to fight a traffic ticket. No, we don't get to call a police chief.

Kenney reacted quickly after the Madu story was broken by CBC News. But that ignores the fact Madu's offence happened 10 months ago.

And he only expressed "regret" after the story became public.

Madu's behaviour has further tarnished the reputation of a government that has spent much of the past year bouncing from one embarrassment to the next.

Madu is in trouble for appalling bad judgment and hubris.

It's not about the traffic ticket or whether he wanted the ticket quashed.

It's the phone call.


Graham Thomson

Freelance contributor

Graham Thomson is an award-winning journalist who has covered Alberta politics for more than 30 years, much of it as an outspoken columnist for the Edmonton Journal. Nowadays you can find his thoughts and analysis on provincial politics Fridays at cbc.ca/edmonton, on CBC Edmonton Television News, during Radio Active on CBC Radio One (93.9FM/740AM) and on Twitter at @gthomsonink.