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'Potential to be abused': Unknowing UCP member receives mail-in leadership review ballot

Correction: A previous headline referred to the individual as a Non-UCP member, as he had never signed up to be a part of the party. The UCP says he automatically became a UCP member after the PC/Wildrose merger. We have adjusted our headline to reflect that.

As mail-in ballots for the United Conservative Party leadership review were delivered this week, one voting package was sent to a non-party member's home in St. Albert.

Mary O'Neill was not expecting to see an envelope containing a leadership review ballot in her mail. The ballot was addressed to her husband, Jack O'Neill.

Jack was a former Alberta deputy minister for culture and multiculturalism and former chief commissioner of the Alberta Human Rights Commission from 1993 to 1994. Health challenges prevented his participation in the interview.

Mary served two terms, in 1997 and 2001, as a Progressive Conservative Party MLA for the riding of St. Albert.

"I thought this is strange that a ballot would be sent to someone who is not a member," Mary said.

The voting package contains a verification of identity and declaration form, in addition to a paid return envelope, a ballot secrecy envelope, and the actual ballot itself.

The form makes clear that for a ballot to be considered valid, the declaration affirming the voter is a party member who has paid their dues must be signed.

"I respect political parties, and I respect the challenges and hard work workers put in for it," Mary said. "But I don't like seeing something having the potential to be abused or to be managed incorrectly."

While she remained a member of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta until the party merged with the UCP, Mary says she is now an Alberta Party member and that her husband is not a UCP member.

"It raised my concern if you are not a member, which it says you are required to be, then how do they check to see if someone is a member," she said. "It strikes me with such emphasis being you have to be a paid-up current member, and yet they are sending a ballot out."

Dave Prisco, the UCP's communications director, told CTV News Edmonton anyone who was a member of either legacy PC or Wildrose parties became part of the UCP in 2017.

"That was part of the agreement to merge that was approved by the members in the merger vote," Prisco said in a written statement.

Anyone who misrepresents their party status and casts a ballot in the leadership contest is committing fraud, Prisco added.

"The verification process takes place from May 11 to 17 where volunteers confirm the eligibility of each voter before their ballot is placed in the ballot box," Prisco said. "A vote is only counted if a person meets all of the requirements."

Scrutineers and an auditor will oversee the entire process, Prisco says.


Lori Williams, a political science professor from Mount Royal University, said the leadership review process has already been mired in controversy.

"I don't know that there's anything that will persuade the people who are now suspicious of the process," she said. "The problem, in this case, is that it looks as though people who are on any list that the former Progressive Conservative, Wildrose, or UCP, anybody on any of their lists could today receive a ballot.

"The question then arises, who decided which of those people should receive a mail-in ballot and which should not," she added.

Originally, Kenney's leadership review was to occur before 2022. Then it was supposed to be in late 2022 before it became a one-day, in-person vote on April 9 in Red Deer.

That was shifted by the party's board to a mail-in process after more than 15,000 people registered to cast their ballot.

Williams said some may now be questioning if the determination of who receives ballots could be predicated on an assumption they are more likely to vote for Premier Jason Kenney.

"It's precisely those types of folks that many think the party's now trying to target in order to boost Jason Kenney's chance of winning the leadership," Williams said.

"On the other hand, I don't think it helps, as if, in this case, people are getting ballots to participate in a process where they don't want to be part of the party, much less have Jason Kenney as their leader and premier," Williams added. "It could backfire."

For Mary, the entire ordeal has left her "perturbed."

"It's a ballot that we have no right to either receive and certainly not to send in because (we are) non-members," she said.

"I believe the political process should be legitimate, whether it's within a party — having been part of it — or whether it's in a general election. I just want the integrity to be there in the process."

The results of the leadership review are expected to be announced on May 18. Votes must be cast by May 11.

According to the UCP, there are approximately 60,000 members eligible to vote. Should Kenney not receive a majority share of support, the party would need to host a contest to select a new leader. 

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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