It’s designed to help Kenney save his leadership, wiggle out from RCMP investigation and silence one of his fiercest critics
EDMONTON – The UCP gave Bill 81 the innocuous sounding title “Elections Statutes Amendment Act” – but after last night’s raucous and shameful debate in the Legislature, it’s clear that it should have been called the “Jason Kenney Rescue Plan.”
That’s because the Bill – which was rammed through the Legislature at 3:00 a.m. this morning while most Albertans slept – will do at least three shocking and undemocratic things aimed at helping the increasingly unpopular Premier face challenges within his own party, and at the ballot in 2023.
First, the newly-minted law will allow Kenney’s deep-pocketed friends to buy up to 422 party memberships EACH for OTHER PEOPLE – WITHOUT GETTING THEIR CONSENT. This will allow Kenney to flood upcoming party nominations with his supporters in an effort to install loyalists, rather than candidates who would challenge Kenney’s leadership.
It’s clear Kenney wants this power so he can silence dissent within his own party, influence the outcome of the high-profile nomination contest looming in Fort McMurray and crush opposition in the UCP leadership review this spring.
Second, the new law will make it more difficult for the RCMP to continue its investigation into claims that Kenney’s campaign used fraud, forgery and bribery to win the UCP leadership race in 2017.
Elections Alberta chief Glen Resler has ruled that under the previous election law it was illegal for individuals to buy party memberships for other individuals – an issue at the heart of the RCMP’s investigation into irregularities in Kenney’s leadership campaign.
Now, instead of acknowledging that he broke the law, Kenney has simply changed the law to make what his campaign did retroactively legal.
Third, the new law uses the fiction that there was an “AFL loophole” in the old law to justify stripping Alberta’s oldest, largest and most vocal worker organization, the Alberta Federation of Labour, of its constitutionally-protected right to free speech.
During the debate last night, UCP Justice Minister inadvertently said the quiet part out loud when he acknowledged that one of the real goals of Bill 81 was to “limit the ability of the AFL to influence elections.”
“In Jason Kenney’s world it’s fine for wealthy UCP supporters to exercise influence by funding American-style PACs and flooding nominations,” says AFL president Gil McGowan. “But heaven-forbid ordinary working Albertans have any of their own influence to counter balance the influence of wealthy conservatives. We can’t possibly allow that!”
In the end, McGowan says Bill 81 amounts to a shocking abuse of power and a disturbing attack on democracy.
“Democracy can only function properly when the influence of the wealthy and powerful is constrained by rules that level the playing field,” he says. “When the rules are, instead, used to shore up the power of governments, parties or their wealthy backers at the expense of everyone else, democracy begins to fail. That’s what we saw in the Legislature last night. It was a shameful display that should go down in history as the day Jason Kenney sacrificed democracy to save himself.”
McGowan concludes by saying: “We in the Alberta labour movement won’t let this stand. We won’t let Kenney get away with his attempt to subvert democracy in our province by acting like a northern Trump. So, my message for Mr. Kenney is this: we’ll see you in court within weeks. And at the ballot box in 2023.”
Director of Communications, AFL