Councillor alleges intimidation by Tory MLA

A Sturgeon County councillor says she was told by a Tory MLA to back off her opposition to controversial new legislation landowners worried would undermine their private property rights.
Sturgeon County Coun. Karen Shaw says Athabasca-Redwater Tory MLA Jeff Johnson told her the government would cut funding to her municipality if she didn't stop opposing the province's land use legislation. (CBC)

A Sturgeon County councillor says she was told by a Tory MLA to back off her opposition to controversial new legislation landowners worried would undermine their private property rights.

"Point blank, it was if you don’t back off, your funding could be jeopardized to the municipality," Karen Shaw says.

Shaw says Athabasca-Redwater Progressive Conservative MLA Jeff Johnson made that comment to her last fall in a private conversation.

'Pork barrel' questions

Chief Electoral Officer Brian Fjeldheim plans to follow-up on a CBC investigation that revealed "pork barrel" politics in some Alberta towns.

Fjeldheim says he was surprised to learn that a number of municipal governments have donated taxpayers' money to the governing Progressive Conservative party.

St. Paul council spent $500 to allow town officials to golf in a fundraising tournament for Tory MLA Ray Danyluk.

In 2009 Barrhead council spent $720 on two tables for 16 people at a fundraising dinner for Tory MLA and legislature speaker Ken Kowalski.

Officials in Cardston waived some golf fees for a 2009 tournament honouring former premier Ed Stelmach, a gift estimated at about $5,000.

Fjeldheim plans to follow up on the incidents next week.

The two were talking outside a closed door meeting of municipal and provincial politicians and representatives of the electrical industry.

"It’s a pretty big stick to hold over a municipality," Shaw says. "Every municipality is reliant on the province for funding for infrastructure, for everything."

Shaw began helping organize meetings of landowners after she says she couldn’t get straight answers out of provincial and other officials about what Bill 36, the Alberta Land Stewardship Act, meant for farmers like she and her husband.

Many farmers across the province were worried the proposed legislation would eliminate their legal right to stop such utilities as power lines and pipelines from crossing their property.

A few days after her confrontation with Johnson, Shaw says Sturgeon County’s chief administrative officer, Chris Micek, told her the county had received calls from the province asking questions about how much funding the county had received.

Shaw said it made her feel sick.

"I thought, 'How sad that we are afraid to speak up. We live in a democratic society, and we’re afraid to say anything for fear that we’re putting our municipality at risk' and right now I still want to throw up," she says.

Micek told CBC he doesn’t remember speaking with Shaw and he didn’t get any calls from the province.

Johnson denies allegations

Johnson says he has known Shaw for years and has had many conversations with her.

Tory MLA and Infrastructure Minister Jeff Johnson says the conversation Shaw describes never took place. (CBC)

"And that is not a conversation we have had," says Johnson, who was recently named Infrastructure minister. "I am saying it is a ridiculous statement. I have never said that and it’s not the way we do business. It’s not the way I do business."

St. Albert lawyer Keith Wilson is a staunch opponent of the government’s land legislation. He says it will strip landowners of their most basic rights. He appeared as a speaker at more than 50 landowner meetings around the province.

Wilson says he was repeatedly told that local councillors did not attend the meetings under threat from their local MLAs that they could lose their provincial funding.

"It was certainly no secret," Wilson says, adding that Shaw contacted him after her conversation with Johnson, just before another meeting she was helping to organize.

"One of the reasons I recall her telephone call is I remember how scared she sounded and how I had to reassure her that putting on the information meeting was the right thing to do," Wilson says.

Johnson says no one from the Progressive Conservative party has ever threatened anyone over this issue and local politicians are free to attend any meetings they wish.

Shaw says she intends to do just that.

"I guess time will tell because I am still advocating for every Albertan, not just in this area; for every Albertan."