Bill to fire Alberta election commissioner passes final reading

The Alberta Legislature has passed a bill to fire election commissioner Lorne Gibson, who has been key in uncovering campaign financing violations related to the United Conservative party’s leadership race won by Premier Jason Kenney. 

Lorne Gibson's position to be terminated upon royal assent of Bill 22

The bill ending Lorne Gibson's role as Alberta's election commissioner passed final reading Thursday. His employment will be terminated once the bill receives royal assent. (Terry Reith/CBC)

The Alberta Legislature passed a bill Thursday to fire election commissioner Lorne Gibson, who has been key in uncovering campaign financing violations related to the United Conservative party's leadership race won by Premier Jason Kenney. 

The measure to fire Gibson is contained within Bill 22, which was introduced Monday afternoon and passed four days later. 

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the quick passage of the bill is the mark of a premier and government "consumed by power and unconcerned by the views of Albertans."

"By passing this bill, I can only assume that the premier and his caucus are united behind that culture of corruption," Notley said. 

Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell will not intervene by withholding assent on the bill, Notley said.

Conflict of interest

The vote took place despite a last minute letter from Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler in response to a request from Notley. 

Trussler said, in an advisory opinion, anyone directly under investigation by Gibson or the RCMP would be in breach of the Conflicts of Interest Act if they voted on the bill.

Individuals with close associates under investigation would likely be in contravention, she wrote.

As for the members of cabinet and UCP MLAs who have been interviewed, Trussler said she would need more information about each person's situation before she could offer an opinion.

But Trussler noted she does not have the power to request the government delay Bill 22 and said it would be "improper for me to interfere with political process." 

Notley said she plans to send another set of letters to Trussler asking her to investigate each UCP member who voted in favour of Bill 22 for possible conflict of interest violations.

"There is no telling how many illegal votes were cast today," Notley said. "This bill should not have passed today, period." 

Unaware of Trussler's letter

Cardston-Siksika Joseph Schow, Sherwood Park MLA Jordan Walker and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer are the three UCP MLAs who voted on third reading for Bill 22 that were interviewed by the RCMP druing the investigation into the UCP leadership race. 

Schow told reporters at the Alberta legislature that he was unaware of Trussler's letter. 

"I wasn't aware of what the ethics commissioner said, or any information that she passed along. Again, I couldn't comment on that," Schow told reporters. 

UCP House Leader Jason Nixon said caucus staff spoke with Trussler earlier Thursday.

"We're confident that all members who voted on Bill 22 are well within their responsibility under the Conflict of Interest Act after that consultation," Nixon said. 

The NDP called Gibson's pending termination, which comes into effect upon the bill's royal assent, an obstruction of justice and a blow against democracy.

'I thought they were better than this'

Shannon Phillips, NDP MLA for Lethbridge West, told the legislature she is dismayed fellow members of the legislature are willing to sell out basic democratic values. 

"I thought they were better than this, and that is disappointing to me," she said. 

Nixon dismissed the NDP's concerns, saying the opposition was blowing everything out of proportion.

As for the haste with which the government passed the bill, Nixon said it needed to be a law in order to implement the budget which is expected to be passed next week. 

    However the opposition alleges the government wants to fire Gibson before he is scheduled to appear before a legislature committee next week where he would face questions about his budget. The UCP government denies this. 

    The NDP introduced an amendment to delay third reading of the bill by six months, but it was defeated. 

    Gibson's files on the investigation into the UCP leadership will become the property of the chief electoral officer, Gibson told CBC Thursday.

    "If you read the bill I think it indicates that the chief electoral officer has the ability to appoint a new election commissioner," he said. "Whether that's me or someone else I have no idea, that's not up to me."

    The omnibus-style bill also contains a controversial provision to move management of the Alberta Teachers' Retirement Fund to the Alberta Management Investment Corporation. Teachers are against the move. 

    It is not known when the bill will be given assent by the lieutenant-governor.

    Gibson's investigation into the so-called "kamikaze" campaign of UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway has led to fines against 15 people totalling $207,223.

    Callaway allegedly entered the race to discredit former Wildrose leader, and Kenney's chief rival, Brian Jean, only to drop out and endorse Kenney weeks later. 

    Kenney and Callaway deny they worked together to defeat Jean, but emails obtained by CBC News show high-ranking Kenney officials providing resources, including strategic political direction, media, and debate talking points, speeches, videos and attack advertisements, to the Callaway campaign.

    Read ethics commissioner's letter here

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