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Election commissioner will be fired amid investigation into United Conservative Party
EDMONTON -- The Alberta government is firing the province's election commissioner as his investigation into the United Conservative Party continues.
Revealed Monday, Bill 22 includes a move to "merge and consolidate the Office of the Election Commissioner into the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer.”
As part of that, Election Commissioner Lorne Gibson's contract will be terminated. The move is expected to save the government $1 million over five years.
Gibson has held the position since it was created in 2018 and prior to his departure, he was investigating allegations of illegal donations in the 2017 UCP leadership contest.
It involved former leadership candidate Jeff Callaway, who was accused of being a "puppet" candidate only in the race to discredit and attack Kenney's rival Brian Jean. Kenney has denied all the allegations.
Dozens of fines totalling more than $200,000 have already been handed out amid the investigation and the RCMP launched its own probe into the matter.
Finance Minister Travis Toews said the government has no input into the investigations and said the party expects they will continue.
"We don't see a reason to have two offices, really, with someone overlapping functions," he said.
He wouldn't discuss the optics of the government firing the man leading an investigation into the governing party but insisted it does not amount to interference.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley, who spoke ahead of the bill's release, told media the firing is concerning given the open investigations.
"For Mr. Kenney to fire the elections commissioner in the middle of an open investigation into the conduct of his own party during his own leadership race is, as far as I know, without precedent in Alberta's history," she said.
"It reeks of political interference. It reeks of corruption. It reeks of the sort of entitlement and self-dealing the Conservatives became known for."
Notley called on Kenney to reverse the decision and let the investigation play out and said if he doesn't, the NDP will bring the matter to Alberta Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell.
It is not yet clear what will happen to Gibson's investigation into the UCP.
In its first year, the election commissioner received more than 500 complaints.
Currently, Manitoba is the only other province to have its Election Commissioner and Chief Electoral Officer in the same office.
Committees, funds dissolved
Several long-standing committees will be also dissolved under Bill 22.
The bill will dissolve several foundations, committees and funds including:
- Campus Alberta Strategic Directions Committee
- Social Care Facilities Review Committee
- Alberta Sports Connection
- Alberta Historical Resources Foundation and Historic Resources Fund
- Alberta Competitiveness Council (will also repeal Alberta Competitiveness Act)
- Alberta Capital Finance Authority (government will manage the loan program directly)
- Transfer investment management of Alberta Teachers' Retirement Fund, Workers Compensation Board and Alberta Health Services to AIMCo
It was introduced in tandem with Bill 25, the government's red-tape reduction bill.
The bill aims to do away with excess bureacracy to "eliminate unnecessary rules and regulations brought in under previous governments."
Reaction to the bill's introduction was swift, with the Alberta Federation of Labour framing it as an attack on the independence of one of the province's biggest pension plans.
"These pension funds represent the retirement savings of hundreds of thousands of Albertans. Premier Kenney has another thing coming if he thinks he can just expropriate these funds and use them for his political purposes," AFL president Gil McGowan said, adding the federation will fight the proposal at every turn.
Bill 25 contains 11 pieces of legislation including an easier opt-in for organ donation, removing legislation that restricts construction of wood buildings to six storeys and reduces delays for forest-management agreements.
It will also repeal the Persons with Developmental Disabilites Foundation Act, saying that the foundation has not existed since 2002.
Both bills have yet to be passed in the legislature.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Bill Fortier