Alberta’s chief electoral officer says the provincial government’s decision to shift enforcement duties into his office and remove the election commissioner will have no impact on any ongoing investigations, which he says have continued uninterrupted since the contentious overhaul took effect last week.
Glen Resler, who appeared before a legislative committee on Friday, did not give a timeline for hiring a replacement election commissioner, which will no longer operate as a standalone, independent position. He added that he hasn’t determined whether the replacement will be a full- or part-time position.
The United Conservative Party government has faced allegations of political interference after removing former commissioner Lorne Gibson, who had been investigating the 2017 UCP leadership race won by now-Premier Jason Kenney. The legislation enabling the change, which also shifted the commissioner position into Elections Alberta, was tabled, debated and passed into law in less than a week.
Mr. Resler said investigative work continues and all documents related to any continuing files have been retained.
He said his office has been through this once before, when the position of the election commissioner was created last year and existing investigations carried on.
“Nothing has changed as a result of Bill 22. The commissioner’s office and staff remain in place, the records are still in the custody of the office,” he said.
“Investigations will be maintained.”
Mr. Resler declined to comment on specific investigations or answer questions from an Opposition NDP member of the committee about any contact with the RCMP.
Mr. Gibson had issued more than $200,000 in fines as part of an investigation into the UCP leadership race and allegations of a “kamikaze” candidate. The investigation relates to allegations that a failed candidate, Jeff Callaway, broke election finance laws to fund a stalking-horse campaign designed to help Mr. Kenney. Both deny any wrongdoing.
The government has defended the legislative change, insisting it would not affect investigations, but rather would bring Alberta’s system in line with other provinces while saving $200,000 a year.
Mr. Resler produced a budget – which combined the operations of Elections Alberta and the former election commissioner – that actually represented an increase in funding. However, he said the change will save money as office space and administrative work from the commissioner’s office is folded into Elections Alberta.
He said he plans to hire an election commissioner, though he said it’s not clear yet whether the position would be full-time. Mr. Resler said there is no reason Mr. Gibson couldn’t apply.
Mr. Gibson has not commented publicly except for a written statement issued last week, which warned that eliminating the position of an independent election commissioner could undermine confidence in the election process.
During the committee appearance, Mr. Resler also made several recommendations to improve elections in the province. He said his top recommendation would be for fixed election dates, rather than the current rule that requires an election any time in a three-month window between March 1 and May 31.
He added the uncertainty means the agency must begin renting office space in February at a cost of more than $500,000 a month.
“This would allow my office to co-ordinate polling places, office space, supply shipments and advertising space well in advance of the election,” he said.
The committee unanimously voted to approve Mr. Resler’s proposed budget of $8.7-million.