Alberta passes bill to fire watchdog as UCP investigated

Watchdog on firing line

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

Kenney's government introduced the bill on Monday, invoked time limits on all three stages of debate and it was passed Thursday.

NDP Opposition critic Sarah Hoffman criticized the UCP for pushing the bill through while Kenney was in Texas on a trade mission.

"The premier has not addressed this bill even once in this place, and I think that that's shameful," Hoffman told the chamber prior to the vote. "If you want to bring forward a bill to fire the guy who's investigating fraud, forgery, and bribery in your own party, you should at least stand in this place and defend that."

NDP critic Marlin Schmidt compared Kenney's government to that of Russia's Vladimir Putin.

"They've consolidated power and moved so quickly, Vladimir Putin would blush at the gall that these people have in crushing democracy."

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

The UCP says it's strictly a cost-saving move and there is nothing stopping a new election commissioner from continuing the investigation.

The New Democrats say Gibson's firing will have a chilling effect and the investigation will die.

UCP deputy whip Joseph Schow accused the Opposition of sullying Resler's integrity by suggesting he will ditch the investigation.

"How arrogant is that ... to suggest that we control what Mr. Resler does. His is an independent office and one that must be respected and not passed around this chamber like a political football," Schow said.

The bill also transfers control of the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund, along with funds for the Workers’ Compensation Board and Alberta Health Services, to the Alberta Investment Management Corp., a Crown corporation.

Gibson has been investigating fundraising violations tied to the 2017 UCP leadership race and has levied more than $200,000 in fines to date.

Kenney won the race and earlier this year the United Conservatives won the general election.

The NDP has been making several last-ditch attempts to stop the bill. The party has written to Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell asking her to intervene on the grounds that the bill is an abuse of privilege by Kenney's government. Mitchell's signature is needed to proclaim the bill and make it law.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley also wrote to ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler on Wednesday asking that she ban the entire UCP caucus from voting on the bill on the grounds that United Conservatives are all in a conflict of interest because they would benefit from having Gibson's contract terminated.

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