Jason Kenney's high-profile and unconventional fundraising campaign has some Alberta Progressive Conservative members pushing the party's brass to change the timeline of its provincial leadership race.
Mr. Kenney, who remains a Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party of Canada, is scouring Alberta for support and cash, bolstering both his profile and war chest. He wants to unite the PCs with the Wildrose Party, a strategy the PCs have previously rejected but the Official Opposition said it will consider.
Alberta's NDP, the governing party, is asking Elections Alberta to investigate whether Mr. Kenney's fundraising violates provincial laws. The NDP, in a letter to the agency Wednesday, argued that Mr. Kenney is on the wrong side of donation and spending rules because the PC leadership race has not formally started.
Mr. Kenney kicked off his PC leadership bid in July, but the race is not officially open until October.
The PC drive to launch the leadership contest before October and the NDP's complaint to Elections Alberta indicate Mr. Kenney's rivals are rattled. It also highlights a gap in Alberta's election-spending legislation.
"A lot of people want the race to start earlier just because they want the clarity, they want the Elections Alberta laws to kick in as far as collecting donations," Katherine O'Neill, the PC's president, said Thursday. "I've been receiving a lot of phone calls over the summer from members that would like it to be moved."
Drew Westwater, Alberta's deputy chief electoral officer, in an interview Thursday, said there are no rules governing what politicians may do prior to registering as an official candidate in a leadership race.
"Our legislation currently doesn't have any authority to govern or restrict election spending by anyone outside the election period," he said. "Anything that is raised or spent prior to [the election period], we have no authority or jurisdiction over."
Mr. Kenney raised $34,175 from 581 donors last week, according to a fundraising e-mail sent Wednesday. He is collecting cash through a third-party vehicle dubbed Unite Alberta. The candidate has pledged to comply with Elections Alberta's regulations governing leadership races, as well as the PC rules imposed during its past two provincial leadership campaigns.
The PC's board will meet in late August to write the rules for this leadership contest. The request to change the official start date is not on the agenda yet, Ms. O'Neill said, but she expects it to be discussed.
"Albertans expect … if there's a race, then the race should be on." The PCs will select a new leader through a delegate system in March, 2017.
Mr. Kenney, she noted, is not the only potential candidate campaigning in the province. Indeed, potential rivals are rallying support and lining up donors quietly. Mr. Kenney's campaign team did not respond to questions about the push to change the leadership schedule.
Duane Bratt, a politics professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, believes Mr. Kenney has "flustered" some Tories.
"They are worried about one candidate who is already running getting a leapfrog in front of everybody else who is waiting for the Oct. 1 deadline," he said. The spooked PCs are concerned Mr. Kenney's head start will make him appear "insurmountable" by the time the race officially starts, Mr. Bratt said. Further, the MP for Calgary Midnapore will have a financial edge as he beats potential rivals to donors.
"It would get rid of his advantage, by moving [the Oct. 1 start date] forward," Mr. Bratt said.
Meanwhile, NDP provincial secretary Roari Richardson in his letter to Elections Alberta argues that Mr. Kenney and Unite Alberta are operating illegally by raising and spending money before the leadership race starts. The NDP, to support the argument, cited a section in the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act that reads: "No leadership contestant and no person acting on behalf of a leadership contestant may, during the campaign period, (a) accept contributions, or (b) use any funds, including the funds of the leadership contestant, unless the leadership contestant is registered under this Act."
The governing party believes Mr. Kenney is "in violation of at minimum the spirit" of the law. The NDP also believe contributions to Unite Alberta are illegal, arguing the law says people may only donate to a "registered leadership candidate."