Single cheques from political donors for sums above the $30,000 limit are allowable so long as they’re later split up and “attributed” to several entities, Alberta Premier Alison Redford says.
Ms. Redford stood by her cabinet colleague’s reading of provincial law as she spoke to reporters Thursday, when the province’s legislature adjourned for its holiday break. The issue stems from a Globe and Mail report that billionaire Daryl Katz, according to sources, wrote Ms. Redford’s Progressive Conservatives a single, $430,000 cheque during the spring election campaign, only to see it later divided up among several entities for receipt purposes.
The PCs had stayed largely quiet on the issue, but House Leader Dave Hancock said this week such a scenario is entirely within the rules – it doesn’t matter if more than $30,000 comes from one cheque and one bank account, he argued, because that doesn’t mean it’s the account holder’s money. Ms. Redford agrees.
“I think his comments were entirely appropriate,” she said, suggesting that regardless of whether it’s in one massive cheque, “there’s a full transparent process to make sure the funds are attributed to individual contributors.”
The PC interpretation of Alberta’s election finance laws – seen by some as the weakest in Canada – surprised opposition members.
“To take a donation drawn on one account, and then say, ‘well, this person donated a part of it and this person donated a part of it,’ it’s fiction. It’s false,” NDP Leader Brian Mason said. “And if that is allowed, it certainly contradicts my understanding of the legislation, and it would be a travesty. It would be an absolute travesty of our existing rules for fundraising.”
Alberta’s Chief Electoral Officer is investigating the Katz donation.
The Official Opposition Wildrose Party tried to amend a bill during session to close what it calls the Katz loophole, one requiring any donation above $15,000 to come on a cheque from the entity receiving a receipt. The PCs blocked the motion, one of over 100 opposition amendments voted down during the fall sitting. All the amendments were “erroneous, irrelevant and not important,” Ms. Redford said Thursday.
The break is a welcome reprieve for Ms. Redford’s PCs, who have dealt with one controversy after another. Those included questions about the consortium of law firms representing Alberta in its $10-billion case against tobacco companies to recover health costs. Ms. Redford, as justice minister in late 2010, selected the consortium that included the law firm of her ex-husband and political ally, Robert Hawkes. Documents show she chose the firm, not specifying why, and that other “unsuccessful” law firms were contacted.
But Ms. Redford has insisted that since her successor, Verlyn Olson, finalized the deal, that she had nothing to do with it. “The government retained a firm that had a record in suing Big Tobacco, a firm that could be independent in its advice to Albertans – those are all good reasons to make the decision, but I didn’t make the decision,” she said Thursday. The suit, if successful, could yield hundreds of millions of dollars in legal fees to her ex-husband’s consortium. The government has also refused to release the terms of its deal, or say why the consortium was picked over the others.
Instead, the PCs criticized Wildrose for carrying a negative tone in the legislature this fall. Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said the negative tone was a function of PC scandals. “I’m sorry – there’s a lot of issues that are out there. There’s a lot of scandals out there. We have to, as the opposition, bring forward those issues on behalf of Albertans,” she said.
The government was also in damage control Thursday after Tourism Minister Christine Cusanelli used a government credit card to make a series of questionable purchases, including airline tickets for relatives. Ms. Cusanelli repaid some of the expenses and apologized.