Alberta’s election agency has stopped the practice of disclosing the names of people or organizations that receive fines or sanctions for violating the law, as it reviews its policies after the provincial government’s decision to remove the election commissioner and overhaul the position.
The United Conservative Party government has been defending its decision to eliminate the independent commissioner and instead move the position under the purview of Elections Alberta and the chief electoral officer. The change also terminated the contract of commissioner Lorne Gibson, who had been investigating the 2017 UCP leadership race that elected now-Premier Jason Kenney.
Elections Alberta said its policy of withholding names was in place before Mr. Gibson was appointed last year. The agency acknowledged it represents a change from Mr. Gibson’s tenure and said its approach is being reviewed.
Mr. Gibson maintained a running list of fines and letters of reprimand issued by his office. Many of those were connected to the investigation into failed UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway, who was accused of breaking campaign finance rules to fund a stalking-horse campaign that was designed to benefit Mr. Kenney. Both deny any wrongdoing.
Elections Alberta spokeswoman Pamela Renwick said the chief electoral officer’s policy of withholding the identities of fine recipients had been in place for years before Mr. Gibson was hired and was based on legal advice.
“We realize that the disclosure from the former election commissioner provided different information, so we will be reviewing our disclosure practices in the future to have a consistent practice," Ms. Renwick wrote in an e-mail.
Earlier this week, the agency posted details of a fine against Alan Hallman, who managed Mr. Kenney’s campaign in a by-election race in 2017. Mr. Hallman was fined $1,500 for allegedly obstructing an Elections Alberta investigation, according to a document posted to the agency’s website.
The Elections Alberta document, however, does not identify Mr. Hallman, Mr. Kenney or the UCP. Instead, Mr. Hallman’s name surfaced in court documents as he mounted a legal challenge, which was rejected by a judge this month. Mr. Hallman declined to comment as he considers whether to appeal that decision.
The case predated the creation of the election commissioner position and was instead handled by the chief electoral officer. The party released a letter from Elections Alberta that cleared Mr. Kenney and his campaign from the complaint that prompted the initial 2017 investigation, which was related to campaign brochures.
Elections Alberta declined to make chief electoral officer Glen Resler available for an interview. Ms. Renwick said the agency would ensure the review of its disclosure policies is finished before the results of any other investigation are posted.
Jess Sinclair, press secretary to UCP house leader Jason Nixon, said in an e-mail that the legislation overhauling the election commissioner position did not include any changes to disclosure. The chief electoral officer is independent and makes those decisions, she said.
The government has insisted the change to the election commissioner position wouldn’t affect any continuing investigations and denied allegations of political interference. The chief electoral officer can hire whomever he wants to fill the election commissioner role, the government has said, including rehiring Mr. Gibson.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley called on the chief electoral officer to maintain Mr. Gibson’s policy of publishing the names of anyone who is found to have violated election laws.
Ms. Notley, who has accused Mr. Kenney of attempting to interfere with an investigation into his own party, said the change in policy is another sign the government was wrong to remove the election commissioner.
“We see other jurisdictions moving to be more transparent and Jason Kenney’s doing everything he can to keep his stuff hidden," she said in an interview.
Duff Conacher, of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, said the public has the right to know the names of anyone who is fined by an election agency.
“Generally, across the country, a watchdog will publish the identify of someone who is found to have violated the law,” Mr. Conacher said.
“If you don’t know the details of what they’re doing, including the full information about who was alleged to have violated the law, the public simply can’t tell if the rules are being enforced properly.”
Mr. Conacher said even the amount of information that Mr. Gibson released about his investigations was not enough.
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