Notley kicked out of legislature for comment on election watchdog firing bill

EDMONTON — Alberta NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley has been kicked out of the legislature chamber after she refused to apologize for comments about the United Conservative government’s plan to fire the province’s election watchdog.

Notley told the house Tuesday that Government House Leader Jason Nixon was making misleading statements on proposed legislation that would end the contract of Lorne Gibson during Gibson’s investigation of UCP fundraising misdeeds.

Legislature members have wide latitude to debate in the house, but rules don’t allow for allegations that one member is deliberately misleading or lying.

When Speaker Nathan Cooper directed Notley to apologize, she refused, saying bigger issues are at stake with Bill 22.

“We see a corrupt act to interfere with an investigation in this house and we must be able to call it what it is,” Notley told Cooper.

“I’ve never seen a threat to this house like Bill 22, not in the province’s history.”

Cooper ejected Notley for the day. She picked up her books and papers and, escorted by the sergeant-at-arms, walked out as colleagues pounded their desks in support.

The desk-pounding itself was another backhanded thumbing of the nose toward Kenney’s government, which has banned this time-honoured noisemaking tradition, calling it undignified.

Notley was to learn later what Cooper will demand she do before being allowed to retake her seat in the house, but it usually involves making an apology.

“We will see. I will consider my options,” Notley said when asked later if she will apologize.

“At this point, I’m more interested in considering all the different ways in which we can do everything we can to stop this bill from passing.”

Gibson’s job as election commissioner was created as an independent office of the legislature by Notley’s NDP when they were in government in 2018. It was charged with focusing on fundraising and advertising violations while Chief Electoral Officer Glen Resler remained in overall charge of elections.

Gibson has since levelled more than $200,000 in fines surrounding rule-breaking linked to the 2017 United Conservative leadership race, which Jason Kenney won before he became premier this year.

That future of that investigation was thrown into doubt Monday when Kenney’s government introduced Bill 22, which calls for ending Gibson’s contract and puts the next election commissioner back under the auspices of the chief electoral officer.

Nixon told the house Monday that this is a prudent consolidation measure.

“No one is firing anybody,” said Nixon.

“All investigations remain under the purview of an independent officer of this legislature — the chief electoral officer.”

Gibson, in a public letter issued Tuesday, said he learned of his pending dismissal from media reports after Bill 22 was introduced.

“My disappointment is not related to my personal role as commissioner, now or in the future,” Gibson said in the letter.

“I am concerned about the potential negative impacts on the independence of election administration and the real and perceived integrity of the election process.

“Citizens of Alberta must have confidence and trust in the integrity of all aspects of the provincial electoral process, not just the casting and counting of ballots on election day.”

Notley said her caucus has asked Lt.-Gov. Lois Mitchell to intervene on the grounds that Bill 22 is an abuse of privilege by Kenney’s government.

Mitchell’s signature is needed to proclaim the bill and make it law.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2019.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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