There is a reason U.S. President Donald Trump keeps heralding each and every upswing in the stock market: He knows it’s something many Americans care more about than the plethora of scandals that have swirled around him since taking office.
This is the central reason there hasn’t been a national revolt to drum him out of the White House.
And we are kidding ourselves if we don’t think politicians around the world haven’t taken notice. Many of those politicians believe the public isn’t nearly as alarmed about decisions that, once upon a time, would have seemed outlandish in their brazenness and beyond consideration – for fear of inviting a deadly voter backlash.
Which brings us to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
On Monday, Mr. Kenney’s government introduced a bill that will, when passed, terminate the job of Elections Commissioner Lorne Gibson. Mr. Gibson’s name probably means little to those living outside the province, but inside Alberta he is known for his tenacious, troubling investigation into the United Conservative Party leadership race that eventually crowned Mr. Kenney.
Mr. Gibson has levied more than $200,000 worth of fines against UCP operatives. The commissioner’s investigation has largely focused on the so-called “kamikaze” campaign of UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway, who is alleged to have entered the race as part of an elaborate scheme to discredit former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who was also running for the top job.
Mr. Callaway’s job was allegedly to discredit Mr. Jean on behalf of Mr. Kenney, who kept his hands clean and remained above the fray. (“Stalking horse” is one term used repeatedly in describing Mr. Callaway’s purported role.) Eventually, Mr. Callaway dropped out of the race and endorsed Mr. Kenney, a move that was also allegedly part of the script.
The RCMP have been called in to investigate. Yet Mr. Gibson’s job was still far from over.
The government has tried to defend the move by saying it was a rationalization of services; that Mr. Gibson’s position has now been rolled into the provincial Chief Electoral Officer’s mandate. And if the Chief Electoral Officer wants to hire Mr. Gibson to continue his probe, he’s welcome to. As if.
“It’s laughable and jaw-dropping in its stupidity to think anyone would actually buy that,” former NDP premier and now Opposition Leader Rachel Notley told me. “Make no mistake: What’s been done here is an historic and unprecedented abuse of power. I think it’s corrupt. They knew exactly what they were doing here. Exactly.”
This is the second time Mr. Gibson has been fired by a conservative government in Alberta. In 2009, he was pushed out after he brought in a report that suggested the Progressive Conservative government was taking advantage of flaws in the electoral system. He suggested some reforms. That was enough to get him turfed. The NDP brought him back in 2018. Now he’s out of a job again for, once again, seemingly doing something the reigning conservative government of the day didn’t like.
But this is outrageous. You don’t fire a guy in the middle of an investigation. As Ms. Notley told me, it’s as if the Liberals had fired the federal Ethics Commissioner in the middle of his investigation into SNC-Lavalin. It’s like Mr. Trump carrying through on threats to get rid of Robert Mueller in the middle of his examination of Russian interference in the last U.S. election and the role Mr. Trump might have played in it.
Recently, Steve Allan, the head of the provincial inquiry into the role foreign actors are playing in besmirching Alberta’s good name in the energy sector, awarded a $905,000 sole-source contract to a law firm in which his son is a partner. Despite outrage from many quarters, the government announced it was not planning to do anything about it, even though it appears to be a clear conflict of interest.
Some of the so-called scandals that got Alison Redford dumped as premier look almost quaint by comparison now.
The indignation expressed by Ms. Notley and others over the Electoral Commissioner’s firing – Mount Royal University professor Duane Bratt told CTV News the move was “plain and simple a cover-up” – is unlikely to move Mr. Kenney and his government.
The Premier is riding that high Alberta politicians get when they pick a fight with Ottawa and weaponize their speeches with talk of alienation and separatism. He likely feels quite invincible right now, beloved by the people of Alberta.
And he’s betting they’ll get over a little firing such as Mr. Gibson’s in short order. And he’s likely right.
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