EDMONTON — Alberta’s Wildrose Opposition wants an investigation into Premier Rachel Notley’s role at a big-ticket Ontario NDP fundraiser which the Wildrose says solicited donations from companies doing business in Alberta.
The Opposition says it is asking ethics commissioner Marguerite Trussler to look into Notley’s involvement in last Friday’s event, saying it raises questions around impartiality and the selling of access.
“(Premier) Notley once campaigned on greater openness and transparency in politics, but within a year she is now conducting secret, big-money fundraisers for her friends,” said Jason Nixon, Wildrose critic on the democratic accountability file.
Notley’s spokeswoman, Cheryl Oates, said the premier cleared the event beforehand with Trussler.
Oates said Notley did not travel at government expense, and she said none of the donation money went to the Alberta NDP.
“I can confirm that the premier attended. She was a guest of the Ontario NDP for one night at their fundraiser,” said Oates.
“Her (Notley’s) main focus is her role as the premier of Alberta, but she is also the leader of a political party, and so once in a while she will participate in political events and she participated in one for one night in Toronto.”
Oates said any further information would have to come from Ontario’s NDP.
The event was held at the Royal York hotel in Toronto.
It was billed on tickets as an evening just with Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario NDP, which sits third in the Ontario legislature.
But Wildrose says sources invited to the event were told it would be a close-access dinner with no more than 20 donors invited.
The Wildrose sources also said that Ontario companies doing business in Alberta were solicited to attend.
Alberta corporations and unions are banned from donating to political parties under legislation passed by Notley’s NDP last spring.
Nixon says the Toronto fundraiser raises questions about whether Alberta companies can gain access and influence to Notley through the back door, by participating in out-of-province NDP fundraisers.
He also said even if such events meet the letter of the fundraising and conflict of interest laws, they fail to live up to the spirit of the rules.
Karla Webber-Gallagher, provincial secretary of Ontario’s NDP, addressed the issue in a short email.
“We had a successful event that went ahead as planned, an intimate dinner hosted by Andrea Horwath at which Premier Notley was our guest.
“The attendees included people from a wide range of sectors, including business and labour all based or doing business in Ontario.”
Webber-Gallagher did not immediately respond to followup questions on who attended, how they were solicited, and whether they had business dealings in Alberta.
Notley’s NDP have made headlines previously on fundraising issues.
On Monday, NDP provincial secretary Chris O’Halloran told The Canadian Press that the party decided to cancel an add-on event scheduled to take place before a $250-plate fundraiser Tuesday night at the Art Gallery of Alberta in downtown Edmonton.
The add-on event, at $1,000 a ticket, offered closer access to Notley and her legislature members in a separate room at the art gallery for an hour before the main event. He said the $1,000 event was not advertised on the party’s website. He said tickets were solicited through emails and phone calls.
The $1,000 ticket also included access to the $250 event.
O’Halloran said party officials cancelled the $1,000 event “recently” but wouldn’t say why. Shortly after, the premier’s office announced the event was on and was, in fact, never off.
Notley’s office noted Monday that Trussler also reviewed the $1,000 event and ruled that lived up to the provisions of the Conflicts of Interest Act.
The Wildrose has asked Trussler to revisit that issue as well.
Last May, the NDP party was forced to backtrack after it tried to leverage the swearing-in of Notley and her cabinet into a party fundraising event.
Last November, the NDP caucus apologized to the legislature chamber after it was revealed the party was promoting access to Notley and her team at a Calgary fundraiser as cabinet ministers.