Alberta’s election agency says it will publicly identify anyone it fines for breaking election laws, after briefly reverting to an old policy that redacted such information.
The Globe and Mail reported on Wednesday that the election agency – which took over enforcement duties after the province eliminated the independent office of the election commissioner – had stopped attaching the names of people and organizations when it published details of fines. The agency said this was a long-standing policy based on legal advice that was in place until last year, adding that it would review its disclosure practices.
On Thursday, Elections Alberta issued a statement that said it would attach names to all publicly posted notices of fines and also add that information to previous records for 2018 and 2019. Those include cases that were started by the chief electoral officer before the election commissioner position was created last year.
Legislation passed last week eliminated the independent commissioner position, instead folding that job into Elections Alberta, and removed commissioner Lorne Gibson. Mr. Gibson had been investigating the United Conservative Party’s 2017 leadership race, prompting accusations the government was attempting to interfere in the probe.
“In our review of this matter, we have determined that for all investigations, disclosure will include all components found in the former election commissioner’s disclosure, including the names of individuals," the Elections Alberta statement said on Thursday.
The interruption in disclosure came to light after Elections Alberta posted details of a fine against Alan Hallman, who was campaign manager for now-Premier Jason Kenney in a 2017 Calgary by-election.
The notice said a campaign manager was fined $1,500 for allegedly obstructing an investigation, though the document did not name Mr. Hallman, Mr. Kenney or the UCP. Mr. Hallman’s identity was revealed in court documents as he fought the fine; a judge rejected his legal challenge, though he is considering an appeal.
The initial investigation in that case related to campaign brochures. Neither Mr. Kenney nor his campaign were fined.
Before his contract was terminated last week, 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.
The list was a key source of information about the investigation.
Duff Conacher, of the group Democracy Watch, said Elections Alberta should go further and publish detailed reasons when it issues fines, as is the case in other provinces and at the federal level.
“You have an announcement of a fine and you don’t know exactly why and you don’t have the reasons or details,” Mr. Conacher said.
“That detail is needed in order to determine whether [the chief electoral officer] is doing his job properly and to ensure Albertans know who did the wrongdoing and why they were found guilty.”
The recently passed legislation transferred enforcement duties to chief electoral officer Glen Resler, who will hire a new election commissioner and oversee that work. The government has said Mr. Resler will decide who is hired and is free to rehire Mr. Gibson.
The Elections Alberta statement said existing investigations have continued uninterrupted since the legislation was passed and that all documents and records have been maintained.
Mr. Resler is scheduled to appear before a legislature committee on Friday to present a budget for his office as it absorbs the election commissioner.
The Opposition New Democrats have indicated they intend to use the hearing to question Mr. Resler about continuing investigations.
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