The Wildrose Party – the Opposition in Alberta – has formally called on the province’s chief electoral officer to investigate the election finances of the governing Progressive Conservatives.
In a press release on Friday morning, the Wildrose said they wanted the investigation to look at “an alleged $430,000, single-cheque donation to the Progressive Conservatives in the April election.”
On Thursday, The Globe and Mail reported that Edmonton billionaire and Oilers owner Daryl Katz gave the Conservatives $430,000 in a single cheque near the end of the spring election campaign. According to a source close to the campaign, the donation was then divided up under other names.
The limit on donations in Alberta during an election is $30,000. Elections Alberta has previously said some forms of cheque-splitting are okay.
“The limits we have in place are designed to ensure nobody can exert undue influence, or appear to exert undue influence, on those elected to government; accordingly, their proper enforcement is essentially to the health of democracy in Alberta,” wrote Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith in her letter dated Thursday to chief electoral officer Brian Fjeldheim.
Beyond the large political donation – of which $300,000 has been directly connected with Mr. Katz in public disclosure on Wednesday – the issue that hangs over the controversy is the $450-million hockey arena that the City of Edmonton and Mr. Katz want to build. While that project is in trouble, it has always budgeted for $100-million from the province, and a casino, which the province would have to approve.
“Our local billionaire just bought himself a government,” said NDP Leader Brian Mason in the legislature during Question Period on Thursday.
Ms. Redford has long stated she is against direct funding of an arena but has also said cities could use other provincial funds for such a project.
How an Elections Alberta investigation unfolds is somewhat unclear. The chief electoral officer has power to look through all pertinent documents – and the Conservatives have already said they would co-operate.
There is also work under way by the provincial government to introduce changes to Alberta’s election finance law, when it comes to disclosure of violations, but how that affects this case is unknown at present.
Under the current Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, results of investigations are kept secret unless – according to a clause in section 5 of the act – “the Chief Electoral Officer believes on reasonable grounds that the disclosure is necessary for the purpose of advising the Minister of Justice and Attorney General or a law enforcement agency of an alleged offence under this Act or any other enactment of Alberta or an Act or regulation of Canada.”
Ms. Smith, in her letter to Mr. Fjeldheim, pressed on the issue of transparency.
“Should you find that there are any barriers to your investigation, I trust that you will make the impediments known to the entire legislature so that we can work to address them as we work through the Bill amending the election-related act this fall,” wrote Ms. Smith.