2019 has been a crazy year in our politics, and really the politics of the World as a whole. While we’ve seen some disturbing things here at home that were against norms we expect like a properly functioning democracy, like the SNC-Lavalin Scandal, we’ve been able to look elsewhere in the World and feel like we could retain some kind of moral superiority. All we have to do everyday is watch CNN to see leader of the World’s largest democratic superpower doing things that are destroying democratic norms left, right and centre, many times a day. Heck, there are times when we can see it in real time on Twitter.
So yeah, it’s relatively easy for us to look at that, look at our own circumstances and say that we’ve got things going pretty good in comparison. And honestly, that’s not a terrible way of seeing it; what’s going on to our south is something that we haven’t seen in decades, if ever, so yes we do look better by comparison for the moment. But really folks, that is not a static thing and sometimes it’s when we let our guards down that these things creep up on us. It’s with that in mind that we saw a story develop in Alberta last night, one that is just gobsmacking in its brazenness and just how outside the democratic norms that it is:
I’ve written about the whole Kamikaze Leadership candidate scandal that the United Conservatives of Alberta have been facing before. This story has led to an RCMP investigation and the Alberta Election Commissioner has laid fines of over $200,000 to date against people having been found to have broken election law. It’s been a thorn in the UCP’s side and shone a bright light on how Jason Kenney won his leadership job. It showed an ugly kind of politics, one that showed complete disregard for the laws of the land, ones that are in place to ensure that our democratic system operates in a fair and even handed manner.
And with all of that in mind, Premier Kenney and his government decided to fire the Commissioner, Lorne Gibson, eliminating his contract and rolling his job duties into Elections Alberta. They have done this by burying this in a large “red-tape reduction” bill, which they then moved time allocation on, to rush it through the Alberta Legislature. Needless to say, this stinks to high Hell and looks as bad as it seems.
The Kenney government says that this won’t stop any investigations and that the Chief Electoral Officer can re-hire Mr. Gibson if he wants, but folks are we really to believe that will happen? If it’s all as simple as they say and if this really won’t change anything, then why do this at all? Mr. Gibson’s office had an annual budget of $1.3 million dollars and as I mentioned above, they managed to recoup over $200,000 so far this year. That kind of rate of return would usually make most governments giddy about their work. So really when you look at the whole “red-tape” argument, it really falls flat and it’s the thinnest of gruel.
But what else could it be? Well Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid gives us some interesting background into the history of Mr. Gibson and conservative politicians in the province, history that gives us important context here:
But there is a history with Gibson. And the UCP does not like it. Party leadership financing had been unregulated before the NDP passed laws in 2017. The NDP also created the election commission to enforce the law and hired Gibson to run it. He had once been the province’s chief electoral officer, until Progressive Conservative MLAs pushed him out in 2009. They were unhappy with his constant efforts to modernize the electoral system, while pointing out many little ways the PCs were gaming it. Gibson handed in a report with 182 recommendations. He noted that in the 2008 election, 27 per cent of voters had been left off the list. He also said some riding returning officers were, hmm, a bit too close to the local PC MLAs.https://o.canada.com/opinion/columnists/braid-ucp-pulls-the-rug-from-under-leadership-investigator/wcm/a92f16e5-566e-423d-a813-34214ea14ffa
Hmm, it looks like the UCP has a problem with senior civil servants who dare to suggest that the government actually obey the law and play by the rules. So to see him get the axe like this, in such an ugly way, makes that seem like even more so the case. And really folks, this is the kind of thing we don’t see in healthy democracies. Imagine if Justin Trudeau had gone and fired the Ethics Commissioner for releasing his findings on SNC-Lavalin, of the Aga Khan? Imagine if Paul Martin had eliminated the Gomery Inquiry, calling it a simply measure of reducing “red tape”? We all know exactly how Jason Kenney would have reacted to those things when he sat in the House of Commons, and we know exactly how his party would have reacted. They wouldn’t have applauded it; they would have howled to the heavens about how corrupt and wrong it was. And you know what, they would be right in doing so.
These are not innocent acts of government modernization and really there is nothing innocent in their application or intent. This is an attempt to silence the watchdogs who protect our democracy and ensure that our elections are fair and transparent, instead of the farce that we see in some banana republics and dictatorships. This is a moment when Albertans need to be asking a lot of questions but also Canadians need to be paying attention. If Jason Kenney gets away with this in Alberta now, which other Canadian politician will be emboldened by his example? Time to shine a light on this move so that hopefully we’ll never be in a position to answer that question.