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Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley thrown out of house in Bill 22 stand-off

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley was forced to leave the legislative assembly Tuesday after she refused to apologize for saying the UCP house leader was lying about a bill to fire the election commissioner. 

NDP Leader Rachel Notley says firing election commissioner a 'threat to our democratic institutions'

After refusing an order to apologize in the Alberta Legislature, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley is removed by Speaker Nathan Cooper. 6:33

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley was ordered to leave the legislative assembly Tuesday after she refused to apologize for saying the United Conservative Party house leader was lying about a bill to fire the election commissioner. 

She was posing a question about Bill 22, introduced Monday, which would fire Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson in the middle of his investigation into the UCP leadership race, won by Premier Jason Kenney. 

Notley objected when UCP House Leader Jason Nixon said "no one is firing anyone" when answering her questions in the house about Gibson's pending termination. Bill 22 says the person holding the position of election commissioner is terminated when the bill becomes law, though the chief electoral officer could hire them back. 

Under house rules, MLAs are not allowed to say another member is lying or misleading the house. Usually, the issue is resolved when an MLA apologizes and withdraws their remarks at the request of the Speaker. But Notley refused to do so. 

"The greatest jeopardy posed in this house is posed by Bill 22," she told Speaker Nathan Cooper. "And at this point we must have a full and honest conversation that does not involve misleading statements by any member over there.

"So I will not apologize until we have fully canvassed the destructive nature of this bill in a historic way to the people of this province and to the members of this house past, current and future." 

Outside the house, Notley defended her conduct.

"Why are we interrupting that conversation, the important conversation, with something as trivial as that when the whole institution, the whole independence, the whole role of the legislature is under attack right now," Notley told reporters.

"I just knew that we needed to make the case that this is a much bigger issue than parliamentary language. This is about parliamentary existence." 

Appeal to lieutenant-governor

Earlier in the day, Notley asked Alberta's lieutenant-governor to deny assent of Bill 22 if it is passed by Alberta's majority UCP government. 

Gibson expressed concern his dismissal will compromise "the independence of election administration and the real and perceived integrity of the election process."

In a written statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Gibson said he was "surprised and disappointed" after learning of his pending job loss through media reports. 

Gibson has been focusing on the so-called "kamikaze" leadership bid of Jeff Callaway since he took office last year and has laid more than $200,000 in fines against 15 people involved.

The Callaway and Kenney campaigns are alleged to have conspired to bring down Kenney's main opponent Brian Jean. Both men deny the collaboration.

"Inadequate enforcement of election rules can allow for inappropriate conduct to occur and that conduct can affect voter participation and election outcomes," Gibson wrote.

Notley sent a letter on Tuesday to Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell urging her to take action on a bill Notley calls a "misuse of the authority of the legislature" and "a threat to our democratic institutions" — particularly since the government has moved to limit time for debate. 

"While I recognize that it is unusual for the lieutenant-governor to exercise this authority, I am convinced that the exceptional nature of this proposed legislation calls for such extraordinary measures," Notley writes. 

Claims of greater efficiency

The proposed legislation would dissolve the independent office of the election commissioner and change the scope of the position so it reports to Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler.

Gibson's contract, which was in place until 2023, would be terminated upon passage and royal assent of the bill.

The government claims the move achieves greater efficiency and saves $1 million over five years.

Critics say that by removing Gibson, Premier Jason Kenney is thwarting additional investigations into the race. 

Finance Minister Travis Toews, the minister responsible for Bill 22, said Resler is free to rehire Gibson if he chooses. Toews said the change will have no effect on ongoing investigations. 

The NDP will also seek an emergency debate on the bill Tuesday afternoon. Since the UCP has a majority in the Alberta legislature, the request likely will not be granted. 

Notley said on Monday the NDP caucus will also be seeking advice on what legal steps can be taken to stop the government from firing Gibson.

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