Alberta election watchdog to continue naming people sanctioned for wrongdoing

EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief electoral officer has reversed course and will be posting the names of people and organizations fined or sanctioned for breaking elections laws.

The news comes a day after the Globe and Mail reported that chief electoral officer Glen Resler, following past practice, would not be naming violators as he takes over the files and responsibilities of fired election commissioner Lorne Gibson.

“In our review of this matter, we have determined that for all investigations disclosure will include all components found in the former election commissioner’s disclosure, including the names of individuals,” Pamela Renwick, spokeswoman for Resler, said in a statement Thursday.

Renwick said the office will be reposting findings and decisions made by Gibson and will continue doing so in future cases.

“All investigations staff are continuing in their roles and investigation work is continuing uninterrupted,” wrote Renwick.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said it’s good news that the names and sanctions will still be released, but added it speaks to a broader concern as Resler takes over Gibson’s job.

The United Conservative Party government passed legislation last week that fired Gibson and moved his staff to Resler’s office.

The NDP have argued that Premier Jason Kenney abused power in firing Gibson, who was investigating the UCP and had levelled more than $200,000 in fines to party members for fundraising violations tied to the 2017 leadership race won by Kenney.

Notley said the reason her NDP government created a dedicated elections investigator in 2018 was because it’s difficult for any quasi-judicial body, such as the chief electoral officer, to focus on advising, facilitating and administering rules while simultaneously trying to investigate and sanction.

That problem is compounded in the modern age, she said, as schemes to skirt election rules become more widespread and sophisticated.

“When you’re a facilitator and adviser it becomes very difficult to then become an investigator and enforcer,” said Notley.

That dual mindset was reflected in the chief electoral officer previously not naming rule violators, she added.

“It’s evidence of a culture that, separate and apart from anything else, could likely temper the vigilance and the tenacity of investigators and enforcement players within the (reunited) chief electoral office.”

Notley also suggested that Gibson’s firing is having a chilling effect on investigators.

Gibson’s dismissal was part of an omnibus bill on reforming agencies, boards and commissions. The bill moved his job and five staff positions to Resler’s office, but specified that Gibson’s contract would be terminated.

The bill was introduced, debated and signed into law at breakneck speed while Kenney was on a trade mission in Texas.

Kenney has said the bill was apolitical. He noted that all investigations are continuing and that splitting the two positions was inefficient and a waste of money.

His office declined comment on the chief electoral officer’s announcement Thursday. It said Resler’s officer is independent and has the authority to make its own decisions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2019.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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