Danielle In QP, October 25: Political Party Financial Contributions

Ms Smith: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Some very serious allegations have been made today. The law governing political contributions prohibits donating other people’s money to a political party, but it appears that’s what has happened. A well-known Edmontonian made a contribution of $7,500 to the Wildrose Party legally, but his alleged contribution to the PCs is said to be $430,000 in a single cheque. If this is true, it is an ethical scandal of enormous proportions. Will the Premier join me in asking the Chief Electoral Officer to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation?

The Speaker: The hon. Premier.

Ms Redford: Well, thank you, Mr. Speaker. The first thing I want to say is that the reason we’re able to have this discussion today in the House and in the public domain is because we have in place elections financing legislation that ensures that political fundraising and political contributions are fully transparent. Of course, six months from the day of the election all financial reporting was provided to the Chief Electoral Officer. We are absolutely confident with respect to the process that we put in place to conform with that legislation, and we very much respect the independence of the Chief Electoral Officer. However, what I have asked the Progressive Conservative Party today is to consult with the Chief Electoral Officer to ensure that things are in full compliance.

The Speaker: The hon. Leader of the Opposition.

Ms Smith: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. One thing we can’t know is whether or not there was one cheque. Given that something like this happened before, involving illegal contributions and the PC Party, and that the then Justice minister, who is now the Premier, quashed the charges on the recommendation of the Chief Electoral Officer, how can Albertans be certain that this won’t get swept under the rug again?

Ms Redford: Mr. Speaker, I think the Leader of the Opposition has a short memory. Last time through this discussion there were a number of allegations made that were found to be entirely unfounded. We went to the people of Alberta and talked about those, and six months ago the people of Alberta again voted for this government because they can trust this government. They can have confidence in this government. While we are prepared to cooperate fully with the Chief Electoral Officer, we will not dignify the allegations that are made in this House that are completely unfounded to start this cyclical debate again.

The Speaker: The hon. Leader of the Opposition.

Ms Smith: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I think I should remind the Premier that there were 37 instances where the Chief Electoral Officer found illegal donations had been made.

We will see this government time and time again dodge, hide, obscure, bury, and avoid the truth. Some call it a culture of corruption. We know they are not reliable to investigate themselves, so now with another huge ethical scandal brewing, can we be sure that we are going to get the truth this time?

Ms Redford: Mr. Speaker, let’s go back to the fact that it is not the job of the government of Alberta to investigate itself. It is the job of the Chief Electoral Officer to investigate any political party and any concern with respect to financial contributions. Frankly, I take exception to the fact that there would be any suggestion in this House that any minister, including myself, would do anything to quash a prosecution. That is offensive and rude. Speaker’s Ruling

Questions about Political Party Activity

The Speaker: Hon. members, I would also like to just point out again – and I know you all know this – that we have to be really careful with questions that deal with political party matters because this is not the for that. I noted how carefully worded the questions were today.

We’ll carry on with the second main question from the Leader of the Official Opposition.

Ms Smith: Mr. Speaker, we’re dealing with the issue of whether the government can follow the law, its own law. This apparent breach of the act raises a host of questions about contributions, influence, transparency, and government ethics. The individual alleged to have made the huge contribution to the PCs is seeking taxpayer support for a hockey arena in Edmonton. How can taxpayers be certain that there is no connection between the contribution to the PC Party and the contribution to an arena?

Ms Redford: Mr. Speaker, the first thing I would note is that in every one of those questions the words “apparent” and “alleged” have been used. That is inappropriate in terms of a debate around government public policy. The Chief Electoral Officer has the opportunity to investigate wherever he chooses to, and that is his discretion.

With respect to the fundamental issue, Mr. Speaker, as a  candidate for leader of this party, as the elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, as the Premier in this House last fall, during the provincial election and since the election our position has not changed. It is a public conversation. We have been consistent, and there is no reason to suggest a connection between the two, particularly when our position does not support the request from the person who made the contribution.

Ms Smith: Well, Mr. Speaker, let’s just further the public conversation because given that the individual also deals with the government on pharmaceuticals, how can taxpayers be certain that there is no connection between the contribution to the party and the decisions affecting drugstores? To the Premier.

Mr. Horne: Well, Mr. Speaker, apparently we’ve moved from offensive to repulsive, but perhaps that’s beside the point. In answer to the question, as a matter of public policy, if the questioner is interested, we negotiate the rules that govern pharmacies with the Pharmacists Association of Alberta and all pharmacy providers. We negotiate with them as one group. No one particular provider receives special treatment. Those are the rules, Mr. Speaker, and that’s how they’re followed.

Ms Smith: Mr. Speaker, given that the number $430,000 represents a quarter of the money raised by the PC Party and given that the PC Party formed the government and given that the donor has two multimillion-dollar items before the government, doesn’t that make the Premier just a little bit uncomfortable?

Ms Redford: What makes me uncomfortable is that the Leader of the Opposition would allege any wrongdoing with respect to any decision that this government would make, Mr. Speaker. The Minister of Health has very clearly set out that there is a contracting process in place that separates government from anything to do with the contract negotiations around pharmacies.

As I’ve said very clearly, the position of this government with respect to arena funding has been consistent since the day that I decided to run for leader of this party, and it will not change.