Unravelling the controversy behind the 2017 UCP leadership race

A leaked cache of documents revealed extensive collaboration between two campaigns in Alberta — and the United Conservative Party and its leader Jason Kenney are still facing the political fallout.

Was Jason Kenney kept in dark by senior staffer about 'kamikaze' campaign?

A leaked cache of internal UCP documents revealed the campaigns of Jeff Callaway, left, and Jason Kenney, right, collaborated extensively during the party’s 2017 leadership race to undermine Kenney’s main rival, Brian Jean. (Jason Kenney campaign)

New revelations about the so-called "kamikaze" candidate controversy in Alberta landed like a bombshell earlier this month after a cache of internal United Conservative Party leadership documents were leaked to CBC News and several other media outlets.

Since then, there has been a confusing flood of allegations and explanations.

The CBC's Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell have examined the documents more closely, and talked to experts about the implications of what we know so far.

What is the current controversy?

Jeff Callaway and Jason Kenney deny the Kenney leadership campaign ran Callaway as a candidate in the 2017 UCP leadership race for the sole purpose of attacking Kenney's main rival, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean.

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But the leaked documents show the two campaigns collaborated extensively over several weeks.

Kenney says the communication between the two campaigns was normal. Was it?

It was far more than just communications.

Through senior staffer Matt Wolf, Kenney's campaign supplied Callaway's with strategic political direction, media and debate talking points, speeches, video advertisements and graphics. All were aimed at discrediting Jean.

Here's a video the Kenney campaign provided to the Callaway campaign:

An attack advertisement Kenney's campaign sent to Callaway's

4 years ago
Duration 0:48
Here's a video the Kenney campaign provided to the Callaway campaign.

University of Calgary political scientist Lisa Young told CBC News she has never before seen anything like it.

"From what I know, as someone who follows politics but isn't a party insider, this doesn't seem normal to me," Young said.

How much if any of the collaboration should have been disclosed to Elections Alberta?

Young, an expert in political financing, said both the Kenney and Callaway campaigns should have disclosed at least some of the resources provided.

"We know that anything that has commercial value — so a radio ad, advertising that is ready to go — it is fine to transfer it between leadership campaigns inside a party, but there is a requirement that it be disclosed," she said.

Alberta's deputy chief electoral officer, Drew Westwater, can't comment on specific cases but he confirmed that, under provincial election law, videos and advertisements "would be considered a valued contribution" and must be disclosed.

"It would be reported on the financial reporting statement of the candidate that received it, for sure," Westwater said, adding "if it was from another campaign, then it would have to be reported on their campaign [disclosure] as well."

The transfer of resources like this, an attack graphic Kenney’s campaign provided to Callaway’s, should have been disclosed to Elections Alberta by both campaigns, political financing expert Lisa Young says. (Supplied)

The financial disclosure form includes sections for leadership candidates to report "transfers received" as well as "transfers issued."

Neither Callaway nor Kenney reported any transfers on their disclosure forms.

What do the two candidates say?

Callaway has not responded to numerous interview requests.

Kenney doesn't admit his leadership campaign provided substantive resources to the Callaway campaign, even though the internal documents show it did.

In a statement, Kenney told CBC News his leadership campaign has not been contacted by Elections Alberta, but will be "reaching out proactively" to both Elections Alberta and the province's election commissioner.

Kenney and Callaway have denied Kenney's campaign ran Callaway as a so-called kamikaze candidate. What does the chronology of events show?

  • Around early July 2017: This is when former UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt says Kenney asks him to be a stalking horse candidate. Kenney denies this.

  • July 19, 2017: This is when former UCP nomination candidate Happy Mann alleges he, Kenney and others met with Callaway, who allegedly agreed to be Kenney's secret candidate to attack Jean.

    Kenney admits a meeting occurred, but denies Callaway was recruited. Callaway campaign communications manager Cameron Davies, however, supports Mann's story.

  • Aug. 6, 2017: Mark Hudson, then a UCP member, records a conversation with Callaway campaign organizer Wendy Adam and her husband.

    Adam says Callaway will be "able to say things about Brian Jean that Jason Kenney cannot."

    Hudson says: "It's a 'kamikaze' mission." Adam confirms this.

  • Aug. 13, 2017: Davies emails Wolf a communications plan for the Callaway campaign, including a rough date for when Callaway would withdraw from the race.

    Davies also sends the email to Shuvaloy Majumdar, an associate of Harper & Associates, the political consulting firm of former prime minister Stephen Harper. Kenney spokesperson Matt Solberg said Majumdar was a volunteer for Kenney's leadership campaign.

    Over the next several weeks, Wolf provides the Callaway campaign with resources, including attack videos and graphics.

  • March 18, 2019: Kenney tells reporters he only learned about Callaway's decision to resign and endorse him "the night before he made that announcement."

    For this to be true, Wolf, Majumdar and others must have withheld from Kenney for nearly two months the fact that Wolf had supported and helped orchestrate the Callaway campaign against Jean.

    Wolf and others must also have withheld from Kenney that the Callaway campaign had stated from the beginning that Callaway intended to quit the race. Wolf is still working on Kenney's election campaign.

Matt Wolf was the senior staffer on Kenney’s leadership campaign who, over several weeks, collaborated with the Callaway campaign to discredit Brian Jean. Wolf still works for Kenney. (CBC)

How many investigations into the Callaway campaign are underway?

At least two, but they don't stem from the leaked documents.

For months, Alberta election commissioner Lorne Gibson has been investigating allegations of irregular political donations to Callaway's campaign. Gibson has fined or reprimanded several individuals for donating money that was supplied to them, which is illegal.

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On Wednesday, CBC News revealed one individual, Happy Mann, has admitted to the election commissioner that he made irregular contributions to Callaway's campaign.

Mann has also alleged Kenney's campaign devised a plan to commit voter fraud to secure Kenney's win in the leadership race. The UCP has denied those allegations.

Recently, CBC News also revealed Gibson has referred one illegal financial contributions complaint about the Callaway campaign to the RCMP for investigation.

What could come next?

There could be another investigation, this time into an alleged $60,000 loan.

Last week, Maclean's reported a company controlled by Calgary businessman Robyn Lore provided what Lore said was a $60,000 "loan" to Davies. Lore said he didn't know what Davies did with the money.

Davies told Maclean's roughly half the money was distributed to "donors" he admitted he helped recruit for the Callaway campaign.

Davies told CBC News the money from Lore was not a loan.

"No loan documents were signed by myself, I did not promise to repay the amount, nor has any request been made of me to date to do so," Davies said. "If the funds were intended as a loan to the Jeff Callaway campaign, I was not aware that this was the case and have no knowledge of the details of any arrangement or repayment."

Lore declined an interview request, saying he believed the "loan" would be the subject of an investigation. He confirmed his comments to Maclean's were reported accurately.

Elections Alberta's Drew Westwater said it is illegal for an individual to make a loan to a campaign.

Only a candidate can obtain a loan, and only from a financial institution other than the government-owned ATB Financial, Westwater said.

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Charles Rusnell, Jennie Russell

Former investigative reporters

Jennie Russell and Charles Rusnell were reporters with CBC Investigates, the investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. They left CBC in 2021. Their journalism in the public interest is widely credited with forcing accountability, transparency and democratic change in Alberta.


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