Party needs to regain trust, PC president says after Kenney fined $5,000
'We lost on May 5, 2015 because people did not trust us'
While the Jason Kenney campaign appears to be bulldozing through the PC leadership race, party colleagues are warning the tone of his campaign is exactly what got the party punted from power last year.
The day after it was announced Kenney would be fined $5,000 for showing up at the Edmonton-Ellerslie delegate selection meeting on Nov.16, party president Katherine O'Neill said candidates need to raise the ethical bar to regain the lost trust that ended the party's four decade reign.
"We lost on May 5, 2015 because people did not trust us. They perceived us as arrogant and we would do anything for power," O'Neill told a news conference Monday.
"After that election, the membership took that to heart. If we're going to rebuild, there has to be not just hitting the bar but raising the bar of expectations of how we conduct ourselves …That's why these rules are in place, and we expect the candidates to follow them."
Clashing opinions on clarity
Last Wednesday night, Kenney — who is running on a platform to dissolve the PC party and merge it with the Wildrose — arrived at the Mill Woods golf course where a delegate selection meeting was being held. A hospitality suite had been also been booked for his supporters.
The rules stipulate that no candidate can be near a room where such a meeting is taking place.
While Kenney has claimed the rules were "vague" and that his campaign "sought clarification," O'Neill said no other candidate had any problems interpreting them. She said she was "disappointed" by Kenney's comments that his team had been left without sufficient information.
Kenney was fined after the party's board of directors accepted a recommendation from chief returning officer Rob Dunseith for Kenney to forfeit $5,000 of the $20,000 performance bond he put up for his leadership bid.
"[The Dunseith report] was very clear that the party did respond," O'Neill said. "There was a written email. There was never a question at any time of, 'Can we have a hospitality suite?' or 'Can the candidate come into the building?' "
Four left in the race
The leadership race currently includes Kenney, PC MLA Richard Starke, former PC cabinet minister Stephen Khan and Calgary lawyer Byron Nelson.
Khan said the rules about candidate presence at the delegate selection meetings were "very clear."
"I find it from a scale from insulting to insincere, at best, that someone who professes to be a 20-year Ottawa politician doesn't understand the basic tenets that you're not allowed to be at a polling station," he said.
"Time and time again, Mr. Kenney and his team demonstrate that arrogant, divisive, old-school style of politics, a style of politics that Albertans in 2015 told us they were done with."
Khan also disputed Kenney's claims that all 15 delegate seats in Edmonton-Ellerslie went to his supporters.
"We know they didn't have all 15," he said.
Starke said he agreed with the decision reached in the Dunseith report to fine Kenney for his actions. He said Kenney knew what he was doing when he broke the rules.
"Mr. Kenney is a career politician," Starke said. "He knows full well that you can't campaign in, near or around a polling station."
The leadership race "is about more than just choosing a leader," Starke said. "It's about demonstrating to Albertans that we've learned the lessons of the 2015 election, and to run a divisive campaign that is sort of us-against-them, 'If you're not with us, you must be an NDP supporter' — which is the charges I'm getting — that's not what Albertans expect from their political discourse."
Starke told reporters he sees "regularly" on social media that if he is not supporting the movement to unite the right, "I must be supporting the NDP."
Since the race officially started, an investigation has been launched into the treatment of former candidate Sandra Jansen at the party policy meeting earlier this month. Jansen, MLA for Calgary-North West, quit the leadership race before crossing the floor to join the NDP.
O'Neill confirmed there is also an investigation into a campaigning issue at the Spruce Grove-St. Albert delegate selection meeting. She characterized the alleged infraction as minor.
The leadership race involves having each constituency association select 15 delegates to send to a leadership convention in March. Eighty-seven associations are holding voting meetings in locations varying from church halls to multiplexes. O'Neill said the intent was not to hand out a lengthy voting protocol.
But, she said, the spirit of the rules should have been clear to all.
"When you set rules down, you expect people not just to follow them to the letter, but to the spirit."