No sympathy for Alberta Party after missed deadlines, cabinet minister says

CBC

The Alberta cabinet minister who brought in tighter reporting requirements for candidates seeking provincial nominations says she has little sympathy for those who miss clear deadlines.

Christina Gray, minister of democratic renewal, said the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, passed last fall, requires more transparency from campaigns and includes tighter reporting rules.

Leader Stephen Mandel and five other Alberta Party candidates were recently banned from seeking public office by Elections Alberta.

Under election finance law, nomination candidates must submit financial statements within the four months after the nomination contest is held.

​The act  is "very clear" that the contest period ends the day the nominee is selected by the party, said Drew Westwater, deputy chief electoral officer for Alberta.

Mandel won his party's nomination contest in Edmonton-McClung on May 12, 2018. The four-month deadline to file financial returns came on Sept. 12.

Ban scheduled for court hearing

Mandel and his chief financial officer, Brian Heidecker, submitted their return 15 days past that deadline.

Gray said she believes four months is adequate time to file the paperwork required by Elections Alberta. 

"We were able to file our paperwork early, or on time rather," she said. "And so I found the process to be clear.

"We all know the nomination is an incredibly important part of someone going down that path and becoming an MLA, and having clear financial disclosure for that makes sense."

Mandel told reporters on the weekend he has applied for the Court of Queen's Bench to review the ban. In a statement Monday, he confirmed that he will be moving forward with the appeal.

"I am committed to Alberta and the Alberta Party," said Mandel. "The extension of legislation into party nominations and associated sanctions by the NDP is an overreach, and we feel the legislation is unclear and conflicting around timelines. We believe strongly that we have a case for judicial relief, and will be making that case in court"

The case is scheduled to be heard on Feb. 22 at 2 p.m. 

The former Edmonton mayor and one-time Conservative cabinet minister said he plans to continue campaigning.

Under the province's fixed-date election legislation, the next election must be held between March 1 and May 31. Once the writ is dropped, the election campaign will last 28 days.

Katherine O'Neill, the Alberta Party candidate for Edmonton-Riverview, said Alberta's rules around nominee and candidate filings were "overly complicated."

"Is this a system that makes this easy for anyone to come in and help a candidate get elected?" O'Neill asked Monday in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "Right now, I think there's some serious concern about it." 

O'Neill said volunteers were "heartbroken" after months of door-knocking and campaigning in advance of the upcoming election.

"It's been a very difficult weekend for all of our volunteers," she said.

The NDP introduced a bill in 2016 with oversight measures for nomination contests. Before recent amendments, political parties were responsible for their own nomination contests, O'Neill said.

'Every politician should be concerned'

O'Neill questioned whether a five-year ban is a reasonable penalty for missing the filing deadline.

"I think most Albertans would look at that for what this is, and say that's not fair, that's not reasonable, and maybe we need to look at our entire system," she said.

"Every politician in this province should be concerned about it."

In a news conference on Saturday, Mandel said he didn't realize his paperwork was late until Elections Alberta sent him a letter on Jan. 30 saying he had been disqualified.

O'Neill questioned why Elections Alberta didn't notify Mandel about the ban earlier.

Mandel said Heidecker, who resigned over health concerns, never indicated the paperwork was late. Both men signed and dated the financial return on Sept. 24, he said. It was stamped received by Elections Alberta three days later.

Heidecker has served as a CFO on 14 provincial MLA campaigns, according to the Alberta Party website.

UCP supports Mandel's challenge

UCP Leader Jason Kenney said he supports Mandel's pending appeal of the disqualification.

"This unfortunate situation appears in part of the NDP's overreach in seeking to micro-manage internal party nominations through legislation," Kenney said.

The UCP had three potential candidates deemed ineligible to run in the upcoming election, though none of them won the nominations. The NDP had one unsuccessful nomination candidate deemed ineligible.

Under the legislation, the ban can include a candidate's chief financial officer, who oversees the filing of campaign paperwork.

"These were all volunteers putting reports in on behalf of their candidate, in good faith," O'Neill said.

"When you are depending on volunteers — that's the lifeblood of any political party. It doesn't help clear up the confusion, because they come in brand new to the system."