The Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act (Bill 22) that eliminates the position of provincial election commissioner has nothing to do with stopping an ongoing investigation into the controversial UCP leadership race, but instead is a cost-cutting measure, says Jason Nixon, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House UCP MLA and house leader.
“The consolidation of these two roles in a single independent office will bring Alberta in line with the model used federally,” Nixon said.
“Provincially, only Manitoba even has an election commissioner, which operates under the chief electoral officer, not as a freestanding officer of the legislature.
“Chief electoral officer Glen Resler, who is independent, non-partisan and even reappointed by the former NDP government, will have full authority to pursue all matters as he sees fit, as was the case before the NDP's creation of the election commissioner just last year.”
The election commissioner Lorne Gibson has been investigating the UCP leadership race that saw Jason Kenney elected as party leader. He has already handed out more than $200,000 fines to people involved in the leadership race.
The official Opposition argues that the elimination of the position of election commissioner is an attempt to stop that investigation.
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley was kicked out of the house for the day on Nov. 19 after saying Nixon was “misleading” the house about the legislation.
“The house leader is misleading the house but the premier is saying Albertans are subject to one set of rules but when it comes to himself it is a whole new world and her can rewrite them as any coverup demands,” Notley said.
Following her remarks, Speaker of the house Nathan Cooper, who is the UCP MLA for Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, kicked Notley out of the house for a day.
Speaking in the house that day, Nixon said, “We will continue to ensure that the chief electoral officer remains an independent officer of this legislature.”
Cooper said in the house: “The leader of the Opposition knows full well that she can’t make a statement like the government house leader is misleading the house. She can apologize and withdraw.”
Notley replied: “I will not apologize until we have fully cannvassed the destructive nature of this bill in an historic way to people of this province and to the members of this house.
“I have never seen a threat to this house like Bill 22 in the province’s history.”
Meanwhile, the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the United Nurses of Alberta, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the Alberta Teachers' Association issued a joint statement opposing Bill 22 on Nov. 20.
“Many people are outraged and alarmed by the UCP’s decision to fire the legislature’s independent elections commissioner,” the statement reads in part. “Even (U.S. president) Donald Trump was not able to fire the special prosecutor who was investigating him. But that is effectively what Jason Kenney and the UCP are trying to do with Bill 22.
“What the Kenney government is trying to get away with is both unprecedented and dangerous. And Albertans are right to be angry, indignant and profoundly worried.”
Bill 22 passed in the legislature on Nov. 21 and received Royal Assent on Nov. 22.
Following the passage of the legislation, Premier Jason Kenney called it a step forward.
“This simply brings the enforcement function back into the office of the chief electoral officer, where it resided from 1905 to 2018, and where it resides in every other province,” Kenney reportedly said.
“The change strengthens the independence of the commissioner, because now the commissioner will be appointed by the independent arm’s-length chief electoral officer, not by politicians.
“Our government is committed to consolidating redundant agencies, boards and commissions. This is one whose creation we opposed. It made no sense.”
In answer to critics who say the legislation is aimed at ending the investigation into the UCP leadership race, he reportedly called that “misreporting and mischaracterization.”
Also following the passage of the legislation, Notley called for documents related to the investigation into the UPC leadership race to be protected.
“We don’t want any accidental clerical shredding mistakes,” Notley reportedly said. “The people that would be doing those investigations just saw their boss publicly fired and punished for holding premier Kenney to account and his associates to account,” Notley said.
“There’s not a court or an expert in this area that would not describe what has just happened as a fundamental interference with the administration of justice. It is an abuse of power and it has been done through the legislative assembly, which is particularly sad.”
Meanwhile, the Alberta Teachers’ Association is expressing concern with Bill 22, which transfers control of the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund (ATRF) pension assets to the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo).
“The government never saw fit to consult with teachers before acting with unseemly haste,” said Jason Shilling, ATA president. “We are incensed by the aggressive use of closure three times in the past 16 hours to ram this legislation through all three stages of debate in less than a day.”
Teachers have asked the auditor general to conduct a review.
“The government has never adequately responded to data that shows the ATRF outperforms AIMCo, even after costs have been factored in,” he said. “As a result, this decision could actually cost government and teachers more money through higher pension contributions.”
Many teachers and their supporters have voiced concern with the legislation, he said.
“Thirty-two thousand emails have been sent to MLAs in the past three weeks from more than 22,000 concerned citizens, but MLAs kept their earplugs in,” he said.
The ATA has 46,000 members.