It might have seemed like a good idea when the Kenney government passed legislation last year allowing bulk buying of party memberships, but it was probably inevitable that such a dubious idea would sooner or later cause problems for the Conservative Party. United.
That time has now come.
Yesterday, the CBC reported that it had in its possession a letter indicating that Elections Alberta was investigating allegations of legally sketchy group buying of UCP memberships, presumably by Jason Kenney’s campaign to retain his leadership.
The broadcaster quoted senior adviser to UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean, Vitor Marciano, as saying Mr Jean’s group complained to Elections Alberta in late March that someone had bought memberships wholesale earlier that month.
The CBC story, written with excruciating care, said that Mr. Marciano indicated “they named Kenney’s campaign as part of their complaint,” a statement that doesn’t quite connect the dots.
Mr Marciano told the CBC that around 4,000 subscriptions were purchased in March with just six credit cards.
Question: So what’s the problem if the Kenney government passed legislation in December 2021 making the practice legal?
Answer: Law 81, the An Act to amend the electoral lawsonly took effect March 31, 2022.
In other words, it would appear that even though the Kenney government passed legislation making the practice legal, the Prime Minister’s supporters were in such a rush to use it that their campaign couldn’t wait for the law to take effect. .
Indeed, even to comply with the new rules of the law, it would probably have taken more donors than six to make the cut.
This adds to a problem for Mr Kenney because, while the UCP executive can be relied upon never to enforce its own rules when The Maximum Leader is accused of breaking them, it is not not the UCP which enforces the law.
That leaves the question of whether Elections Alberta – an office of the Legislative Assembly, which in turn is dominated by the UCP – can be counted on to take the allegations against Premier Kenney seriously. Mr Marciano says he is confident the office will and expects a proper investigation to take place.
As regular supporters of Alberta politics should know, the RCMP continues to investigate election financing irregularities and allegations of voter identity theft during the 2017 UCP leadership race won by Mr. Kenney and lost by Mr. Jean.
But that investigation has taken so long, with the RCMP apparently still dragging its feet, that many Albertans have come to doubt it will ever be solved.
Mr. Jean, who resigned as MPP for Fort McMurray-Conklin in 2018 shortly after his loss to Mr. Kenney, returned to political activity last year and won a by-election as the candidate for UCP in Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche on March 15. This year. He campaigned on a platform of dumping Mr Kenney and replacing him as leader, which he says is the only way to prevent the NDP from returning to power.
When the UCP tabled Bill 81 in November 2021, it even faced opposition from some UCP MPs.
Along with the opposition New Democrats, UCP MPs David Hanson (Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul), Richard Gotfried (Calgary-Fish Creek) and Leela Aheer (Chestermere-Strathmore, who was kicked out of the cabinet in June last for criticizing Mr. Kenney) all argued in the Legislative Assembly that change was a recipe for trouble. It would encourage well-funded candidates to buy memberships on behalf of Albertans who may never know their identity was stolen to vote in a campaign, Hanson said.
They were also joined in their opposition by exiled former UCP caucus members Drew Barnes, Cypress-Medicine Hat, and Todd Loewen, Central Peace-Notley, who now both sit as independent MPs.
Their objections were of no avail. The government insisted such things would never happen, imposed a time limit on the bill and, after Kenney loyalists on the UCP benches staged a filibuster to shut down debate , passed it at the end of the December 7 evening sitting of the Legislative Assembly.
A day that will live in infamy, so to speak.
So here we are. It seems unlikely that if Mr. Kenney is named the winner on May 18, when the UCP plans to announce the results of the leadership vote, most Albertans will conclude there is something fishy about his endorsement.