Premier promises to make public results of probe into Katz donation
EDMONTON — Albertans will be told the findings of a probe into whether Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz illegally contributed $430,000 to the Progressive Conservative party, Premier Alison Redford promised Wednesday.
“We will make whatever information that is communicated to our party publicly available as soon as possible,” Redford told the legislature during question period.
She said it’s part of her ongoing commitment to open up government.
“We have made significant contributions with respect to transparency, from (politician) expense disclosure to a commitment to a (freedom of information) review (and) public interest disclosure whistleblower legislation.”
Her comments came a day after Alberta Chief Electoral Officer Brian Fjeldheim announced he will investigate Katz’s contribution to the Tories in the spring election.
Earlier Wednesday, Alberta elections spokesman Drew Westwater said that while the parties involved in an investigation can make the findings public, Fjeldheim is restrained by law from publicizing anything except bare bones information.
“We do put out press releases periodically in a generic sense on the number of files we’ve created, how many were found guilty, how many penalties were assessed. But we can’t identify the individual parties concerned or named in the investigation,” said Westwater.
Opposition Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said the information needs to be made public and said Redford could go one better and have the party release the cancelled cheques and deposit slips right now.
“It’s a shame they’re putting everybody through this,” said Smith.
“There’s a very simple way to clear this up: for the premier to keep her commitment to be open and transparent and to release the documents to prove everything is above board.”
The Tories disagree with Fjeldheim’s interpretation of the rules and believe he has the right to release the information. Nevertheless, the government will make that freedom clear in new election rules to be tabled during the current fall legislature sitting.
NDP leader Brian Mason said he, too, believes Fjeldheim has the power to release the information now, but said the key is to get the information out one way or another.
“We gave up on secret trials a long time ago,” said Mason. “That’s something from the distant past. Justice must not just be done, it has to be seen to be done.”
The controversy erupted last week when Elections Alberta posted, as per the law, lists of who donated to the political parties in the April 23 election, which saw the Tories win majority government.
The receipts showed $300,000 in donations from Katz, his family, and business associates in donations at or below the $30,000 maximum.
There have been published reports that Katz gave the Tories much more than that, about $430,000, and that he delivered it all in one cheque.
Opposition politicians have been hammering the Tories on the topic for days in the house during question period.
The NDP and the Wildrose said the amount of the donation, representing at least 20 per cent of all money raised by the Tories in the spring campaign, has put the government in a conflict of interest with Katz.
Katz has been seeking $100 million in direct provincial funding and casino licence changes for a new downtown arena for the Oilers. Katz also owns the chain of pharmacies under the Rexall name.
Finance Minister Doug Horner said this week the government has told Katz it will not directly fund a pro-hockey rink or make changes to casino licence rules.
However, the Wildrose warns that the Tories may try to fund the deal through the back door by adding money to provincial infrastructure grants given to municipalities.
Mason has pointed out the government makes policy that affects pharmacies, and Katz, in many ways.
On Tuesday, Mason told the legislature that after the election, the government changed the health-care fee schedule to double the amount of money pharmacists get from the public purse to dispense flu shots.
Health Minister Fred Horne said those changes were in the works long before the election.
Westwater said while it’s not illegal to deliver multiple contributions in one big cheque, it’s still up to the parties to make sure when they get the cheque that each donor used their own funds and didn’t contribute more than the maximum.
He said it’s up to both the political party and the donor to know the rules, and the donor can’t claim ignorance of the law.
If Katz is found to have over-contributed, Fjeldheim can force the Tories to give the money back, less the allowable contribution of $30,000. He could also order Katz to pay a penalty that doesn’t exceed the overpayment.
Tory party spokesman Kelley Charlebois could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but has said the party has the documentation to prove the donation was spread among various donors and didn’t violate the $30,000 limit for any one donor.
A Katz spokesman declined comment.