Alberta Premier Rachel Notley cleared of ethics complaints over fundraisers

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has been cleared of two ethics complaints relating to NDP fundraisers in Edmonton and Ontario. But the ethics commissioner has again cited Alberta's Conflicts of Interest Law for being too narrow in scope.

Ethics commissioner warns NDP to beware of optics, calls for MLAs to tighten rules

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley attended a private, $9,975-per-plate fundraiser in February that benefited the Ontario NDP. (CBC)

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has been cleared of two ethics complaints relating to NDP fundraisers in Edmonton and Ontario. 

While the opposition had questioned whether the fundraisers met ethics laws, ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler says in a report released Monday that the existing Conflicts of Interest Act only prohibits an MLA or family member from deriving personal financial benefit from a political activity.

Trussler found that Notley did not derive personal financial benefit from either event. Funds raised in Toronto went to the Ontario NDP. 

"The act does not deal with moral integrity or public perception of what is right or wrong," she wrote in her report.

The commissioner says it is time for an all-party committee of MLAs to set new rules for political fundraising that would apply to all parties. 

Trussler looked into a by-invitation-only, $1,000-a-ticket fundraiser in February that allowed donors admission to a private dinner with Notley and her MLAs. 

The event was cancelled after the Wildrose party questioned whether it met ethics rules under Alberta`s Conflicts of Interest Act. But the main part of the fundraising event,  a widely advertised reception at the Art Gallery of Alberta that cost participants $250, went ahead. 

Trussler also reviewed Notley's involvement in a fundraiser a week earlier in Toronto with Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwarth. The fundraiser, which cost nearly $10,000 a ticket, offered corporations access to the two leaders. 

Deputy premier Sarah Hoffman said she was pleased the commissioner exonerated Notley, and took aim at the Wildrose party for registering complaints.

"Unfortunately it seems like the Wildrose keeps slinging partisan mud," she said. "We're focused on jobs and the economy." 

However, Trussler suggests the NDP should keep an eye on optics. 

While the $1,000-a ticket-fundraiser may be within the law, she warned "the perception that only a chosen few are being invited is best avoided." She said the event should have been posted on the party's website. 

As for the Ontario fundraiser, Trussler said she warned the premier`s office that event also could have created public perception issues. At the time, Notley's spokeswoman Cheryl Oates told the media that the premier was going to Ontario to accept an award. 

"It would have been better for the premier and her staff to have been open and proactively let it be known why she was in Ontario," Trussler wrote. 

No rules broken 

Hoffman acknowleged Trussler's comments about optics, but said no rules were broken. 

"I'm sure the party will take that into consideration but there was nothing wrong with what was done and it was totally within the act," she said. "I think the worse optic is for people to make up allegations, threatening the premier's reputation" when there's nothing to the allegations.

The current ethics rules are being reviewed by an all-party committee with a view to making them tougher. Throughout her report, Trussler discussed how there is little in Alberta law addressing political fundraisers. 

With maximum political donations set at $15,000 per individual, Trussler says there is nothing stopping a party from holding a fundraiser that charges that much per ticket. 

"I expect that everyone has a view as to what should be allowed," Trussler wrote. "Who is to draw the line?"

Added Trussler: "I certainly have not been given the legislative authority to do so." 

Wildrose accountability critic Jason Nixon launched the complaints against Notley. He dismissed as "ridiculous" Hoffman's mudslinging allegations about his party.

"I was clear in my letter that the premier may not have broken anything in the act and I wanted to have the ethics commissioner weigh in on that, and again, to let us know if there is a way we can strengthen the legislation going forward," he said.