Mounties launch investigation into reported illegal donations in UCP leadership race
About a year and a half after Jason Kenney claimed the crown of the United Conservative Party, police have begun an investigation into allegations of improper campaign donations made during the race.
The claims say there were ‘irregular financial contributions’ made to the campaign of former leadership candidate Jeff Callaway.
Callaway is accused of being in the race only to discredit and attack Kenney’s biggest rival in the race, Brian Jean.
In a statement on Friday, RCMP confirmed:
“We are aware of the allegations and are looking into the information that was provided to us. No further information will be provided on this matter unless there are criminal charges laid.”
Kenney has denied the allegations, but the controversy has cast a shadow over the upcoming election and political experts say the scandal could change the course of the vote.
Lori Williams, a political scientist with Mount Royal University, says things look a lot more serious now.
“I’ve heard some Wildrosers say the PCs are continuing to control things in the party, that Jason Kenney is even displaying top-down, even dictatorial leadership and it has nothing to do with what the Wildrosers supported at the beginning.”
She says there looked to be a “coordinated effort” to discredit Brian Jean during the leadership race.
“Now, to see evidence not just by the Election Commissioner but now being looked at by the RCMP that something was done that was not only unethical but illegal.”
Williams says the core belief of the former Wildrose Party is at stake because they originally broke off from the PCs because they didn’t like what the PC Party had become.
“Now it looks like those principles are being betrayed; that their leader was betrayed.”
Kenney’s character is also under fire because now there is a sense of distrust in him as a leader, Williams says.
“I think those questions about what kind of Premier he would be, what kind of government he would lead, whether he would in fact make good on the promises to Albertans he is currently making. Those kind of questions could seriously damage his chances in the upcoming election.”
Premier Notley, speaking at a conference in Calgary on Friday, said the fact that some of his own party members are being investigated by the RCMP speaks volumes about his effectiveness as a leader.
“If the shoe was on the other foot, and a politician seeking to lead the province, if either he; or people close to him; was under investigation by the RCMP, Jason Kenney, what would he say? I think he would likely say that person is not fit to be premier and I also think that he would be right.”
Kenney, meanwhile, has continued to defend himself, saying the investigation isn’t related to him or his campaign at all.
“This is about someone else’s leadership campaign from 18 months ago. Albertans want to focus on jobs and the economy and how to get our province back to work. Obviously, we would cooperate with any investigation if we’re asked to provide any information.”
Williams says it’s unclear what the fallout will be when it comes to the upcoming vote.
“The damage doesn’t just have to be that they vote for another party. I supposed they could choose another party even; one that’s sitting closer to the centre like the Alberta Party for example. The damage could be done where they don’t vote at all.”
Williams adds that something seems like it is ‘bubbling up’ in the party and there is no telling how far it will reach.
Alberta’s Election Commissioner has already fined Callaway’s co-campaign manager for obstruction of an investigation and, last week, the UCP turfed Randy Kerr, the candidate for Calgary-Beddington, for not answering questions about donations to Callaway’s campaign satisfactorily.
(With files from Jordan Kanygin)