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The Globe and Mail

House rules limit debate of Katz donation

Edmonton Oilers' owner Daryl Katz, left, speaks with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman during an NHL game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Atlanta Thrashers in Edmonton on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011. 

The Canadian Press

As questions continue to mount about a donation made by billionaire Daryl Katz to Alberta's governing Progressive Conservative Party, the Speaker of the legislature is clamping down on the debate.

Question Period has been dominated this week by discussion of a $430,000 cheque to the Tories written by Mr. Katz during this year's spring election – nearly a third of the party's campaign fundraising. The sum was then divided among several entities for receipt purposes. Alberta limits political donations to $30,000, but some donation splitting is permitted.

The opposition parties have grilled the government about the donation but are running up against parliamentary rules – discussion of "internal party matters, or party or election expenses" in the house is forbidden. Speaker Gene Zwozdesky issued the latest in a series of daily warnings Thursday afternoon, saying questions and answers crossed the line.

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"I'm going to assume that next week there won't be any reference whatsoever to anything to do with issues that are outside the competence or the jurisdiction directly of the government, including … party financing matters of any political party – any political party. Are we agreed?" Mr. Zwozdesky told the House. The MLAs agreed.

Questions on Thursday concerned whether Mr. Katz, founder of the Rexall pharmacy chain and owner of the Edmonton Oilers, spends enough time in Alberta to qualify as a donor. He splits his time among Vancouver, California and Edmonton, and Alberta law prohibits donations from a "person ordinarily resident outside Alberta." The Tories said they don't check where their donors live.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith asked whether that would be included in the Chief Electoral Officer's investigation, announced Tuesday, into the Katz donation. Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk brushed aside the questions, telling reporters it was "one of those birther affairs." Mr. Lukaszuk deferred to the Chief Electoral Officer's investigation, adding he doesn't ask his donors where they live.

"Mr. Katz can make his own statements. I have no idea where he lives," Mr. Lukaszuk said. "We don't check addresses when accepting donations. We assume those who are giving money to us do so in good faith."

The Chief Electoral Officer has offered no timeline on his investigation and is bound by strict laws. He has found, over the past year, 45 cases of illegal donations but is under a gag order and barred from revealing who made them, who took them, how much was given or the amount of any fine issued. The agency says the same law will restrict it from making the result of this investigation public. The Tories have said they'll make it public if he doesn't.

Mr. Lukaszuk said the government plans to table a new law changing the province's election financing rules later this month.

A spokesman for Mr. Katz declined comment Thursday.

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