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Red Deer city councillor breaches election financing rules

Ignorance of the rule change is no excuse, says Coun. Cindy Jefferies
Red Deer Coun. Cindy Jefferies broke election financing rules by accepting corporate donations totalling under $2,400, council found. (Advocate file photo).

Red Deer city Coun. Cindy Jefferies was found to have breached council’s Conduct Code by contravening rules of Alberta’s Election Act.

Jefferies had accepted a total of about $2,400 in cash, or donations in kind, from two corporate sources for her election campaign in 2021.

But the Alberta Election Act had been changed in 2018 to prohibit accepting any kind of corporate donations.

Jefferies, who had initially sat on city council from 2004 to 2014, and then didn’t run again until 2021, said she was unaware the rules had changed. “But I had a responsibility to know and I should have reviewed the rules and regulations before I ran,” she admitted on Monday.

After filing her campaign finance disclosure papers, Jefferies was contacted by Elections Alberta staff in 2022 about these irregularities. An investigation was launched into her accounts at the end of last year.

At that time, Jefferies repaid the corporate money and value of the wood used for her signs or had these amounts transferred into personal accounts, so the provincial investigation was concluded at the end of January.

Months later, a member of the public made a formal complaint against Jefferies at the municipal level, saying she broke council’s Code of Conduct.

The same complainant made five other allegations against Jefferies, but an investigation by city council found only the breach of election finances complaint had merit.

Mayor Ken Johnston said city council decided to investigate this complaint rather than calling in an independent investigator because it seemed straightforward, as Elections Alberta had already investigated Jefferies and the case was resolved.

While council accepted the councillor breached Council Code of Conduct’s Section 7.1, which deals with provincial and federal rules, no sanctions were imposed on Jefferies since this matter was adjudicated and concluded by Elections Alberta.

Johnston said the whole investigation report will be made public this week, possibly even on Tuesday.

Administration was also directed by council to publish all candidates campaign disclosure statements on the City of Red Deer’s website for a period of 4 years post-election.

This is the fourth conduct code complaint against a Red Deer city councillor since 2021. Jefferies said she’s heard other municipalities are also getting quite a few formal complaints since their Conduct Code mechanisms were put in place in 2017 under an amended Municipal Government Act.

In the past, people with concerns or issues would just phone councillors to discuss them, but it’s a different world now, said Jefferies. “I still appreciate that there’s an open, honest and transparent process.”

Lana Michelin

About the Author: Lana Michelin

Lana Michelin has been a reporter for the Red Deer Advocate since moving to the city in 1991.
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