CALGARY (660 NEWS) — After limited debate this week in the Alberta Legislature, Bill 22 has received royal assent from Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell.
The bill, titled the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act, involves abolishing the office of the Election Commissioner and has its roles absorbed by the office of the Chief Electoral Officer.
It generated heavy criticism, particularly from the opposition NDP, with leader Rachel Notley calling it “corrupt” and saying it shows Premier Jason Kenney is “undemocratic.”
They aim at removing Commissioner Lorne Gibson, as he continued an investigation into the UCP leadership scandal — which has resulted in more than $200,000 in fines relating to the accusations Kenney helped prop up a “kamikaze” candidate to discredit Brian Jean and help him secure the leadership in 2016.
The NDP expressed concern that removing the commissioner would stop any active investigations.
The United Conservative Party also invoked closure on the bill, which reduced the amount of debate it received, so it passed third reading on Thursday, just over three days after it was tabled.
It has now been formally signed into law, and the Election Commissioner is no more in Alberta.
Role of Election Commissioner Moved to Office of the Chief Electoral Officerhttps://t.co/gRLTnwY91I
— Elections Alberta (@ElectionsAB) November 22, 2019
Kenney himself did not face any of the criticism face to face, as he was in Texas on a trade mission for most of the week, but he was in Calgary on Friday for the groundbreaking of the new Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health in the northwest.
After the shovels were put down, Kenney faced numerous questions about the bill, starting with why the government invoked closure and passed it so soon.
Says this doesn't fire the commissioner, but merges offices. Believes it will actually strengthen the commissioners role, and would not say that the commissioner is actually being fired.
— Tom Ross (@Tommy_Slick) November 22, 2019
“We’re making structural changes to about three dozen agencies, boards and commissions [in the bill], they need certainties so they can actually merge, consolidate and make the management administrative changes,” Kenney responded. “In terms of investigations, it’s very clear that any investigations get carried back to the office of the Chief Electoral Officer, there’s no reason for any interruption.”
Kenney says this restores the office’s role to how it was for Alberta’s entire history before the NDP created the commissioner’s position in 2018.
The Premier also disputed the accusations the bill amounts to a conflict of interest as himself and several other UCP members are under investigation due to the alleged scandal.
“I don’t see a conflict of interest,” Kenney said. “If the optics are based on misreporting and opposition mischaracterization, then I can’t control that. All I can tell you is what the reality is: the position of the Election Commissioner is retained by law; it’s simply merged back in with the Chief Electoral Officer, so we have one integrated enforcement mechanism with one administration, it saves tax dollars.”
Kenney was adamant the commissioner’s position has not been actually terminated, but they are removing a redundant office that didn’t make sense to his government.
He added that they could not do anything to prevent the bad optics around the decision, indicating the government would have faced the same type of criticism had they waited weeks or months or years to pass the bill.
After Rachel Notley was even booted out of the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday after accusing Government House Leader Jason Nixon of being “misleading” about the bill, and she is still working to determine when she can return, the NDP is vowing to continue fighting back.
A letter sent from MLA Heather Sweet to Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler asking him to confirm any steps taken to preserve the record of complaints submitted to the Election Commissioner and that he should ensure public trust is upheld.
Kenney also said to reporters that he has not been questioned by either the commissioner or the RCMP in relation to the scandal.