Alberta plans to replace its ethics commissioner and chief electoral officer, two non-partisan positions currently filled by appointees who have raised the ire of governing United Conservative Party.
The province’s standing committee on legislative officers on Tuesday voted in favour of motions recommending the government establish separate selection committees to find replacements for ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler and chief electoral officer Glen Resler.
Contracts for both legislative officers expire in May, 2024. Ms. Trussler was first appointed to a five-year term in 2014. Mr. Resler – who oversaw a provincial election in May that drew criticism for a delay in tabulating results – started in December, 2013.
In a report released during the election, Ms. Trussler said Premier Danielle Smith interfered in the justice system in a way that is a “threat to democracy.” The 17-page report said Ms. Smith tried to influence the Minister of Justice in a way that would benefit a street preacher charged for his role at the border blockade near Coutts in early 2022.
In a recent interview with Real Talk, a podcast hosted by Ryan Jespersen, Ms. Smith discussed interactions with the ethics commissioner. When asked if it was accurate that she was not attending the Heritage Classic hockey game on Oct. 29 between the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames on the advice of the ethics commissioner, the Premier said: “I want to be respectful of the position. But there are certain things that we have been told that I cannot do.”
Ms. Smith said she has been told she could only attend the Calgary Stampede hospitality suites for 20 minutes at a time, and that it has been “questioned” whether she can keep ribbon skirts as gifts.
“I can’t do dishes in my husband’s restaurant, even though I’m volunteering to do that,” she said. “There are some tweaks we may need.”
She said she did not want to go to the hockey game if she could only stay in a suite for 20 minutes, so she declined the invitation. Ms. Smith said she thinks most people expect that the Premier and ministers have to attend such events to celebrate Alberta.
“We have to make some changes to the rules,” she said. “Sometimes if the rules haven’t kept up with where we find ourselves today, we may have to adjust.”
Ms. Smith’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Kent Ziegler, the chief administrative officer in the Office of the Ethics Commissioner of Alberta, said it would be inappropriate for Ms. Trussler to comment. However, he said in a statement that staff believe she served Albertans well.
“We are proud to attest to the fact she has always brought a truly impartial, fair and flexible approach,” he said.
The standing committee motion regarding Ms. Trussler passed but some members were opposed. The motion to seek a replacement for Mr. Resler carried without opposition.
“The individual has been in the role for 11 years and having an open competition to ensure that we have the best qualified candidate for the position is in the best interest of that office,” Glenn van Dijken, a UCP MLA, said about Mr. Resler in the meeting.
Elections Alberta came under scrutiny during the provincial election when a number of ridings were slow to report results. It used electronic machines to tabulate advance polling, and the most strident wing of the UCP base, a network known as Take Back Alberta, wants to abolish e-voting across the province.
At the UCP’s annual meeting last week, party members passed a resolution urging Alberta to ban electronic machines for tabulation or counting of ballots in provincial elections.
Mr. Resler, in a statement, said he respects that his employment is subject to reappointment and trumpeted changes under his leadership, such as making it easier to vote through electronic machines and expanded responsibility over election and political financing rules.