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Bill passes to fire Alberta election watchdog during probe of governing party

Last Updated Nov 22, 2019 at 6:28 am MDT

EDMONTON – The Alberta government has passed a bill to fire election commissioner Lorne Gibson, raising questions about the future of his investigation into Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party.

The government introduced the bill on Monday and invoked time limits on all three stages of debate and it was passed this morning.

Prior to the final vote, Opposition NDP critic Sarah Hoffman said it was shameful that Kenney wasn’t in the legislature to defend a bill that fires the man investigating his party.

Opposition leader Rachel Notley is calling the ramming-through of the bill an abuse of power.

“The UCP leader saw his party operatives and insiders being investigated for fraud, forgery, and illegal donations in a leadership race tied his campaign. So, he drafted legislation to effectively circumvent that independent investigation by terminating the investigator in legislation using his power as premier,” Notely said after the bill passed the third reading Thursday.

“It is the most disgusting abuse of power in the history of Alberta.”

Notley received a letter from the Ethics Commissioner after she asked for an investigation earlier this week.

The letter states that MLAs currently under investigation, or with close associates under investigation by the Elections Commissioner and RCMP would be in breach of the Conflict of Interest Act if they voted on the bill.

The bill makes the election commissioner’s job a staff position under the chief electoral officer rather than an independent office of the legislature and specifies that Gibson’s contract be terminated.

“[This] proves that this premier is corrupt and his cabinet and his private members are complicit,” she said, adding she thinks Kenney skipped town while the legislation was being pushed through so he could avoid questions.

“The elections commissioner himself reminded us that the purpose of his office is to prevent a culture of corruption in our politics. By passing this bill, I can only assume that the premier and his caucus are united behind that culture of corruption.”

The UCP says the bill is a cost-saving move and there is nothing to stop a new election commissioner from continuing the investigation, but the NDP says Gibson’s firing will have a chill effect and the probe will die.

The bill will now move to Lieutenant Gov. Lois Mitchell for royal assent.