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Alberta opposition blow whistle on Oilers owner’s donation to Progressive Conservatives

Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz, left, speaks with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman during a game on Feb. 19, 2011.

John Ulan/The Canadian Press

Alberta's opposition parties officially called for an investigation on Friday into a $430,000 donation from Edmonton billionaire and Oilers owner Daryl Katz to the Progressive Conservative party during the spring election, accounting for nearly one-third of all the money the Conservatives raised during the challenging campaign.

The parties submitted letters to chief electoral officer Brian Fjeldheim at Elections Alberta, who will vet the complaints and likely launch an investigation. However, details of the probe would be secret, and current legislation keeps the final results of such investigations from the public, except in the rare circumstance of a prosecution.

Opposition parties demanded transparency on Friday. Brian Mason, leader of the Alberta NDP, said he wants to see a report to the Legislature.

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"This is a matter of great importance for the functioning of our democratic process," Mr. Mason wrote to Mr. Fjeldheim. "I anticipate that your investigation will be complete and that the Legislature will receive a full report on your findings as it relates to this investigation."

On Thursday, The Globe and Mail reported that Mr. Katz donated $430,000 to the Conservatives in a single cheque, and the money was thereafter split up under different names. Mr. Katz and the City of Edmonton have for several years been seeking $100-million in provincial support for a proposed $450-million hockey arena.

The maximum donation for an individual or company during an election campaign in Alberta is $30,000. Elections Alberta says donation splitting is acceptable in some circumstances.

On Wednesday, in public election finance disclosures, the Conservatives revealed that they had taken $300,000 from Mr. Katz, his company, members of his family, and his four closest associates and their companies.

The news sparked a firestorm in the Legislature on Thursday.

Premier Alison Redford on Thursday restated her long-standing opposition to direct arena funding, although she supports indirect funding, and said she is confident in the party's finances.

On Friday, Opposition Leader Danielle Smith of the Wildrose Party invoked "the health of democracy" in her letter to Mr. Fjeldheim. "The limits we have in place are designed to ensure nobody can exert undue influence, or appear to exert undue influence, on those elected to government; accordingly, their proper enforcement is essentially to the health of democracy in Alberta."

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The political pressure in the current case may be more intense than previous situations, suggested Scott Hennig, vice-president of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation. "Elections Alberta hasn't been a real tiger on this stuff," Mr. Hennig said. "And if Redford is going to dig her heels in and say that it's fine, she might be in for serious push back."

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About the Authors
National correspondent, Vancouver bureau

David Ebner is a national correspondent based in Vancouver. He joined The Globe and Mail in 2000 and worked in Toronto and Calgary before moving to Vancouver in 2008. He has reported on a wide range of stories – business, politics, arts, crime – and has covered sports since 2012. More

Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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