EDMONTON (660 NEWS) — Questions about Bill 22 got heated Tuesday afternoon in the Alberta Legislature, and NDP leader Rachel Notley was removed from the Assembly.
The United Conservative Party faces backlash over the bill, which includes a provision that the Office of the Election Commissioner be abolished and the commissioner’s duties by handled by the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer.
The UCP is being accused by the NDP of trying to quell an investigation into the UCP leadership scandal, where Premier Jason Kenney is accused of propping up a so-called kamikaze candidate in order to secure the leadership in 2016.
To date, Commissioner Lorne Gibson has levied tens of thousands of dollars in fines relating to the scandal, which is also being investigated by the RCMP.
At the beginning of question period, Notley wanted the UCP to justify the bill.
“To the Premier, before you establish yourself as the most undemocratic premier in Alberta’s history, will you please do the right thing and withdraw this bill?”
Government House Leader Jason Nixon rose to respond, as Kenney is currently in Texas to try and encourage more investment in Alberta.
“Mr. Speaker, the fake outrage from the NDP is ridiculous,” Nixon said. “This bill does a simple thing: consolidates the election authority system within our province to be in line with every other province inside the country and the federal government. Let me be very, very clear — all investigations remain under the purview of an independent officer of this Legislature, the Chief Electoral Officer, who has served this chamber for a very, very long time in a non-partisan way.”
However, the bill does indicate that the current commissioner does not need to be re-hired nor that any active investigations must continue when the Office of the Election Commissioner is dissolved.
This prompted Notley to accuse Nixon of being misleading.
“The house leader is misleading the house, but the Premier is saying that Albertans are subject to one set of rules but when it comes to himself, it’s a whole new world and he can rewrite them, as any cover-up demands. He’s firing the Election Commissioner, asking his Cabinet to play along in this abusive power.”
By stating that Nixon was being misleading, Speaker Nathan Cooper said Notley had broken the rules.
“The Leader of the Opposition knows full well that she can’t make a statement like ‘the Government House Leader is misleading the House,'” said Cooper.
But Notley refused to apologize, saying that Bill 22 posed a much greater threat than her stating a UCP MLA was being misleading.
Cooper asked her to apologize several times, but Notley did not relent.
“I know how important the traditions of this house are, I know how important the officers of this house are, I know how important the conduct of this house is and the fact that we got here fairly by rules which we all agree to follow,” said Notley. “Bill 22 goes directly at the heart of that, and it is a far bigger threat to this house than whether or not I said people over there misled or the House Leader misled specifically something in writing.”
“But more to the point, we see a corrupt act interfere with an investigation in this house. And we must be able to call it what it is, because I have never seen a threat to this house like Bill 22. Not in the province’s history.”
Cooper informed her of the consequences, and then ordered Notley to leave the Assembly for the rest of the day.
There were several more questions about the bill from NDP MLAs, and they also pressed the UCP about allegations concerning Steve Allan, the commissioner in charge of an inquiry looking at foreign funding of environmentalists.
After she left the room, Notley posted a video online about what had happened.
“I called out the house leader for suggesting that Bill 22 did not actually fire the elections commissioner when it is clear in black and white that they are firing the elections commissioner,” she said in her video.
“I was very forthright that I see Bill 22 as being a fundamental, existential threat to the health of Alberta’s democracy. It allows for the premier to threaten and bully and intimidate anybody who stands up against him and says that he has to follow the same laws that the rest of us have to follow.”
She goes on to say that everyone needs to stand up to what she calls an abuse of power.
“Could you imagine if Justin Trudeau had fired the ethics commissioner in the middle of the SNC-Lavalin investigation? People would’ve gone nuts. That’s what Jason Kenney has done in our province.”
Finance Minister Travis Toews told reporters on Monday that the consolidation of the offices will save money, and there’s no subtext lying underneath about trying to cover up an investigation.
But the bill is drawing lots of criticism nevertheless, including from the non-profit group Democracy Watch.
“It’s a dangerously undemocratic and unethical move,” said co-founder Duff Conacher. “Kenney obviously wants a lapdog in that position instead of a watchdog.”
Conacher believes this is happening because the commissioner is doing too good of a job holding people accountable for the alleged leadership scandal.
“The election commissioner, despite some justifiable concerns about a bit of excessive secrecy by him, has done more than any election watchdog across the country in the past decade,” Conacher added. “The Kenney government is undermining fair and democratic elections and a fair and democratic government.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Notley also sent a letter calling on Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell to make the rare move to step in and block royal assent for Bill 22.
“Bill 22 is an abuse of power and an assault on the principles of democracy,” said Notley. “I am asking the Lieutenant Governor to step in and stop this government from passing this corrupt bill.”
Conacher had some doubts that this will succeed, though.
“Generally, they see their role these days as a rubber stamp. If a government passes something, then they give it the rubber stamp so then it becomes law and then people can challenge it in court afterwards.”
And with the prospect of the UCP maybe even appointing a new Chief Electoral Officer as well, Conacher has serious fears about what is happening.
“This is the first step toward rigging the next election in favour of Jason Kenney’s party.”