Leaked e-mails from United Conservative staffers show Jason Kenney’s 2017 leadership campaign helped a rival who was also in the race to take over the merged party, deepening a controversy that will follow Mr. Kenney into Alberta’s spring election campaign.
The e-mails, leaked to news outlets including The Globe and Mail, follow allegations that Jeff Callaway ran as a “kamikaze” candidate who was in the race to attack former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, only to drop out before the final vote. Mr. Kenney has dismissed those allegations as “conspiracy theories."
The leak came ahead of an election call that could happen at any moment. The NDP government is scheduled to deliver a Throne Speech on Monday.
The e-mails show that Mr. Kenney’s current deputy chief of staff, Matt Wolf, was in regular contact with Mr. Callaway’s campaign and provided support that included speaking notes, message planning, graphics and videos. In one e-mail to Mr. Wolf, a staff member from Mr. Callaway’s campaign outlined a plan that included a proposed timeline for Mr. Callaway to drop out of the race. Mr. Callaway eventually ended his campaign and threw his support behind Mr. Kenney.
Cameron Davies, who has been described as a co-manager of Mr. Callaway’s campaign and who was recently fined by the election commissioner, is now co-operating with the commissioner, confirmed his lawyer, Lindsay Amantea. The leaked materials include a document prepared by Mr. Davies summarizing what he told the election commissioner this past Friday.
In that document, Mr. Davies alleges Mr. Kenney’s team first approached Derek Fildebrandt, who now leads the Freedom Conservative Party, in July, 2017, about running a “dark-horse" campaign, but concluded he wasn’t a suitable candidate. On Sunday, Mr. Fildebrandt confirmed that he had been approached by Mr. Kenney and had turned down his request for such a campaign.
Mr. Davies alleges that a week after the meeting with Mr. Fildebrandt, Mr. Kenney and several members of his campaign met with Mr. Callaway to make a similar pitch.
The United Conservative Party acknowledged that Mr. Wolf kept in contact with Mr. Callaway’s campaign, but insisted such communication with rivals is normal in a party leadership contest, particularly one with multiple ballots. The party noted that Mr. Kenney has repeatedly denied asking either Mr. Callaway or Mr. Fildebrandt to run for the leadership.
Mr. Kenney did not make himself available to comment.
Mr. Wolf sent an e-mail to UCP caucus members on Sunday that acknowledged the leaked e-mails are “unflattering,” but he denied there was anything improper about his contact with Mr. Callaway’s campaign.
“To be clear, this was not a ‘puppet’ type operation. Mr. Callaway made his own decisions for his own reasons," wrote Mr. Wolf, who did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday. “I understand some on the other side will try to characterize my actions with the menacing term ‘collusion.’ It was politics. It wasn’t personal. It wasn’t against the party rules, and I’m confident it wasn’t against any laws.”
Premier Rachel Notley said the documents show “an alleged conspiracy to torpedo an opponent’s leadership campaign.”
“Mr. Kenney owes Albertans a full accounting, not just empty denials,” she said Sunday during a speech to supporters in Edmonton.
"Especially, given that this morning we learned that these denials were calm, cool, confident lies. Outright lies. Mr. Kenney has demonstrated a profound absence of integrity and Albertans deserve better.”
Mr. Callaway’s campaign has been under increasing scrutiny since late last year, when an audio recording surfaced in which UCP insiders appeared to discuss Mr. Callaway running a “kamikaze” campaign in which he would attack Mr. Jean so Mr. Kenney would not have to.
The province’s election commissioner and the RCMP are currently looking into donations to Mr. Callaway’s campaign.
Earlier this month, the election commissioner issued a pair of fines totalling $15,000 to Mr. Davies for obstructing an investigation. He has denied wrongdoing through his previous lawyer, Dale Fedorchuk, who confirmed Sunday that he no longer represents Mr. Davies. Mr. Fedorchuk had urged Mr. Davies not to speak to investigators.
The commissioner also fined Karen Brown, one of Mr. Callaway’s donors, $3,500 for contributing “funds given or furnished by another person.” She has declined to comment.
Mr. Fildebrandt, an MLA who left the UCP caucus and later formed his own party, scoffed at the suggestion that the co-operation between the two campaigns was merely politics as usual.
"These are backroom political operatives, most of which have spent years in Ottawa honing their skills, so for them this might be normal,” said Mr. Fildebrandt, who has become a frequent critic of Mr. Kenney.
What United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney has said about allegations that his rival, Jeff Callaway, was running a “kamikaze” campaign on his behalf:
Feb 12, 2019: When asked whether he had a hand in persuading Mr. Callaway to run or funding that campaign: "No. And no. Mr. Callaway and I met before the leadership election. I was seeking his endorsement, because he was the outgoing president of the Wildrose party. He told me he intended to at least launch an exploratory campaign to run for the leadership. I didn’t think that was a great idea. I was focused on getting as much support as I could for my campaign. And frankly, in leadership election, you’re trying to raise every dollar you can for your own campaign, not for other candidates.
March 13: “The only campaign I ran was our unity campaign. … If you’re asking me about a different leadership campaign, I can’t respond to what a different leadership campaign is alleged to have done.”
March 15: “During the campaign, as I’ve said before, I met with Jeff and friends of his … [in] the summer of 2017. I went to seek his endorsement because he was president of the Wildrose party and was a key activist in the conservative movement. And at that meeting he told me he had this idea of running his own leadership campaign. To be honest with you, for me it didn’t make an awful lot of sense. We were just trying to generate as much support for our own campaign as we could. And then I think staff between the two campaigns kept in touch after that. But I have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about how they financed their campaign.”