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Canada Alberta PC leadership candidate Jason Kenney fined over campaign tactics

Alberta Conservative MP Jason Kenney announces he will be seeking the leadership of Alberta's Progressive Conservative party in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, July 6, 2016. Kenney is being fined $5,000 by the party after an investigation into his activities at a PC delegate selection meeting last week.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney has been fined $5,000 by Alberta's Progressive Conservatives after the party found his team broke rules as part of his leadership campaign.

The party's chief returning officer reported Sunday that when warned Mr. Kenney's tactics during a Nov. 16 delegate selection meeting were against the rules, a member of Mr. Kenney's team brushed aside the concern after learning the only penalty was a fine.

"Fines wouldn't be a problem for the Kenney camp," Alan Hallman, Mr. Kenney's scrutineer at the meeting, told PC Party president Katherine O'Neill, according to the report. The remark was made after Mr. Hallman was told what would happen if any leadership candidate entered the building where voting was being held.

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Minutes later, Mr. Kenney entered the clubhouse at Edmonton's Mill Woods Golf Course and began walking among voters headed into the room to elect the party's first leadership delegates. He left after the president stopped him and told him he wasn't allowed in the building.

Mr. Kenney said he was unaware of the rule at the time, according to a report on the incident by Rob Dunseith, the party's chief returning officer.

The former MP's campaign also rented a room in the clubhouse, only 4 1/2 metres from the voting location, and offered Tories free food and drink. Mr. Dunseith ruled that the hospitality suite was meant to sway voters and violated the party's leadership rules.

His report concluded there was an "inescapable appearance that the Kenney Campaign decided to test the boundaries of the campaign rules."

All 15 delegates elected on Nov. 16 were Mr. Kenney's supporters. The evening's results have been annulled and the vote will be held again.

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Mr. Kenney was unavailable for comment on Monday. His communications director, Blaise Boehmer, told The Globe that the candidate hadn't intended to attend the meeting but stopped by the event to thank those supporting his candidacy. He said Mr. Hallman's assertion that the campaign would violate party rules if the only penalty was a fine didn't reflect the team's stand.

"Mr. Hallman's comments were made during a spirited exchange with party officials last Wednesday, and in no way reflects our team's organized approach to this leadership race," Mr. Boehmer said in a written statement.

Mr. Hallman, a long-time Tory organizer who was once campaign director to former premier Ralph Klein, was also unavailable for comment on Monday.

Vague party rules were to blame for the infractions, according to Mr. Boehmer. He gave as an example the rule that requires a candidate not to be "near" a voting location without specifying a distance.

Ms. O'Neill rejected the view from Mr. Kenney's camp that the rules are vague. "All the other candidates have been able to follow the rule and have no problems following the rule," she said.

"We lost on May 5, 2015, because people did not trust us. They perceived us as arrogant and that we would do anything for power," Ms. O'Neill told reporters on Monday, making reference to the party's election loss that ended nearly 44 years of continuous Tory government. She called on Mr. Kenney and the three other candidates in the race to "raise the bar" with their behaviour.

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Richard Starke, one of Mr. Kenney's competitors for the leadership, said he was disappointed by the behaviour. "He set up a hospitality suite beside where the vote is being held. I mean, come on. He's a long-time politician, he understands that this is totally inappropriate."

The infractions during the vote in the Edmonton-Ellerslie riding aren't the first tactics by Mr. Kenney's campaign to cause a stir. The party confirmed on Monday it is investigating concerns about one of Mr. Kenney's supporters handing out leaflets outside a delegate vote in Spruce Grove-St.-Albert on Nov. 17.

When former leadership candidate Sandra Jansen defected to the New Democrats last week, she said she was doing so because the Tory party is being taken over by "extremists." She also cited being the target of sexually explicit language at a party convention in early November. Mr. Kenney has said that no one in his campaign harassed Ms. Jansen. The party is investigating.

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