Alberta PC leader fined for conflict of interest

Alberta’s ethics commissioner fines McIver over his public push for changes to electricity pricing

EDMONTON – Alberta Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver has been fined for a conflict of interest for publicly calling for changes in electricity pricing in a way that could benefit his wife’s company.

“I do not believe that Mr. McIver was intending to protect his wife’s business in asking the question,” said Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler, in a written ruling issued Wednesday.

She said while she believed his comments were likely part of the normal political give and take, “there could be unintended consequences that could benefit his wife.”

Trussler fined McIver $500, directed he apologize to the legislature assembly, and refrain from future comments or votes on the electricity file as long as Christine McIver is involved in the industry.

McIver said he will abide by the decision.

“MLAs need to be held to a high standard,” McIver said in an interview.

“The ethics commissioner says I fell short, even if it was (done) unintentionally, so what can I do but accept the decision.”

Trussler launched the investigation after receiving a complaint from NDP legislature member Heather Sweet in late November.

Sweet, the chair of the NDP caucus, said the Progressive Conservatives retain the me-first ethos from their days in government.

“The PCs haven’t changed their ways,” Sweet told reporters at the legislature. “They’re looking out for their friends and family and not out for the best interests of Albertans.”

Sweet said it’s the first such fine levied by the ethics commissioner’s office.

The investigation arose after Premier Rachel Notley’s government announced in November it would cap electricity prices in the short term as it transforms the power grid away from coal-fired electricity to one based on a mix of renewables and natural gas by 2030.

The cap was among a host of changes designed to ensure the system has capacity during the transformation and that families are not hit with price spikes.

Starting in June, prices will be capped at 6.8 cents per kilowatt hour for four years.

During question period in the house on Nov. 22, McIver challenged the cap.

“This NDP government’s all-out war on Alberta business continues,” McIver told the house. “Today the premier declared profit a dirty word by limiting the price on electricity.

“The premier seems unaware that today’s low prices are the result of competition and that an artificial price cap will limit investment and, by extension, limit that competition.”

Finally, he asked Notley, “Why are you doing everything in your power to run these companies, many of which are owned by taxpayers, out of business?”

The energy retailer Brighter Futures Energy Inc. is owned and run by Christine McIver.

Trussler, in her report, said that McIver told her he was not furthering his wife’s interest but rather speaking on behalf of a “broad class of the public, namely the 34 competitive retailers of electricity.”

Not good enough, said Trussler.

“I am not satisfied that the 34 competitive retailers constitute a broad class,” she wrote.

McIver is the interim leader of the PC party, selected after the Tories lost the 2015 general election and then-PC premier Jim Prentice quit politics.

Four candidates, but not McIver, are now running to be the new permanent leader. The selection will be made by delegates in Calgary on March 18

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