Alberta’s crown prosecutors are bringing in an out-of-province counsel to help direct an ongoing RCMP investigation into the ruling United Conservative Party that could involve both Premier Jason Kenney and his justice minister.
The prosecution service’s decision on Thursday came after both Mr. Kenney and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer have rejected calls over recent days to appoint a special prosecutor in the case. The RCMP is investigating whether voter fraud was committed in the 2017 leadership race where Mr. Kenney was elected as head of the party.
The race has been marred by allegations Mr. Kenney’s campaign worked to prop up a “kamikaze candidate” who helped defeat the Premier’s main rival, former Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean, as well as serious irregularities in the ballots cast in the race. The RCMP has questioned people in both Edmonton and Calgary, and Alberta’s elections commissioner has levied nearly $90,000 in fines so far as a parallel investigation continues.
Mr. Schweitzer, who was also one of Mr. Kenney’s opponents in the leadership race, confirmed Monday that he had been questioned by the RCMP as part of its investigation. However, the Justice Minister refused to appoint a special prosecutor at the time, citing the independence of the prosecution service.
“Based on recent information, the [Alberta Crown Prosecution Service] will seek an out-of-province prosecutor to provide advice to police on any matters arising during the investigation,” Sarah Langley, the acting head of the service, said in a statement. She did not elaborate on what new information brought about the decision.
With outside counsel helping in the fraud investigation, Alberta’s crown prosecutors will no longer be involved in the case. “Going forward, an independent extra-provincial prosecutor will be responsible for providing advice to the police at their request. Prosecutors do not oversee investigations,” she added. Prosecutors in Alberta can provide advice to police, however, unlike in some provinces, only police can decide to lay charges.
Reading a statement to reporters in Edmonton, Mr. Schweitzer said the prosecution service’s decision was appropriate.
“The Alberta Crown Prosecution Service has independently made the decision to retain external legal council in this matter. It is important to know that this decision was made independent of me or any other elected official. The process worked exactly as it was supposed to,” he said.
Both Mr. Schweitzer and Mr. Kenney declined interview requests. The Premier had been expected to speak publicly on Thursday afternoon to celebrate his government’s move to cancel the carbon tax, however, the event was cancelled minutes after the prosecution service announced its move.
Alberta's opposition New Democrats have repeatedly called on the government to appoint a special prosecutor since Mr. Kenney took over as Premier on April 30. Speaking in the legislature earlier this week, the government’s House Leader had called the opposition’s request a “campaign of fear and smear.”
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said on Thursday that the move to appoint an outside prosecutor was overdue, but was needed to avoid a conflict of interest in the investigation. “The right thing is happening,” Ms. Notley told reporters. “There has been no significant change from when we first called for this to now. And it took over a month for them to get to the right decision.”
The investigation from Alberta’s elections commissioner has centred on the campaign of Calgary businessman Jeff Callaway. A former executive in the Wildrose Party, Mr. Callaway received support from officials in Mr. Kenney’s campaign, according to documents reviewed by The Globe and Mail. After spending much of the campaign attacking Mr. Kenney’s main rival, Mr. Callaway dropped out and supported Mr. Kenney. The Premier has rejected allegations that Mr. Callaway worked with his campaign to attack Mr. Jean.
Special prosecutors have been called in the past in Alberta. One reviewed Alison Redford’s office for its practice of filing falsified flight manifests to ensure few passengers on government flights taken by the former premier. Another in 2000 was tasked with investigating whether former premier Ralph Klein’s daughter had received special treatment.