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provincial politics

Alberta Premier Alison Redford, left, scrums with the media following her meeting with B.C. Premier Christy Clark to discuss the Northern Gateway pipeline in October 2012. Redford's government will be forced to address how to balance the provincial budget with oil revenues not meeting projections.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Alison Redford has given a provincial appointment to the man who brokered billionaire Daryl Katz's $430,000 donation.

Businessman and Progressive Conservative party fundraiser Barry Heck, who according to several sources brokered the contribution to Ms. Redford's party near the end of last spring's election, has been named chair of the province's Economic Development Authority. Mr. Heck did not return requests and calls for comment on Wednesday, and previously has not responded to numerous calls for comment.

Mr. Heck and Mr. Katz first met when the two were at law school in the 1980s at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Ms. Redford highlighted Mr. Heck's unpaid appointment on Wednesday in Toronto in a speech about Alberta's financial crunch and the province's efforts to allay the challenges.

She called Mr. Heck one of Alberta's "most prominent executives and entrepreneurs."

His most significant corporate work came during his 4 1/2 -year tenure – from early 2003 through mid-2007 – as CEO of Westaim Corp., a Calgary company that invested in technology. Westaim, which backed other firms in flat-screen televisions and biotech, flourished for some time, its stock price tripling by early 2006, before the business ventures struggled and the shares lost almost all their value. Westaim was a penny stock when Mr. Heck relinquished the CEO job.

After Ms. Redford's speech on Wednesday, she was asked about appointing Mr. Heck to his new role after he had brokered the donation to her party from Mr. Katz.

Ms. Redford said Mr. Heck is "an incredible man" with strong industry experience.

"Barry Heck's been a volunteer in our party for many years," Ms. Redford said. "I take exception to your characterization. I mean, he is someone who decided that he wanted to help our party raise money. That's what we do in campaigns. We have right now in Alberta the chief electoral officer who's taking a look at this. We're going to leave that there. We're entirely confident with respect to everyone's conduct and I'm not going to stop the business of government because of unfounded allegations that people are making for political purposes."

Last October, The Globe and Mail reported that Mr. Katz gave $430,000 in a single cheque to the Conservatives in the 2012 spring election, an amount that was then divvied up into receipts of $30,000 or less among his family and close business associates.

The maximum donation during an election campaign in Alberta is $30,000, though so-called cheque splitting is said to be allowed in some cases.

Mr. Katz's donation has been under investigation by Elections Alberta for several months, and it has hired a retired judge to oversee the work and two retired policemen with expertise in such matters to conduct the probe.

Brian Fjeldheim, Alberta's chief electoral officer, said in an interview this week that he is not sure when the work would be completed.

"This is ongoing," Mr. Fjeldheim said. "We're working on that, but I don't have a timeline."

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