The RCMP have questions for Jason Kenney’s team on voter fraud allegations

Jason Markusoff’s Alberta Politics Insider for March 28: Ghosts of the UCP leadership race, an escape route from Fort McMurray, and more

A conservative operative named Hardyal “Happy” Mann was fined $9,000 Wednesday donating someone else’s money to the 2017 UCP leadership campaign of Jeff Callaway, the “kamikaze” candidate that Jason Kenney’s campaign coordinated to attack his key rival, Brian Jean. Alberta’s election commissioner has now levied $35,000 in fines for improper donations and other misdeeds on the Callaway campaign. Yet this swirling scandal may be the secondary problem Kenney’s camp now has stemming from  his takeover of the United Conservatives. Voter-fraud allegations could loom larger. The party confirmed to Maclean’s the RCMP has questions for them.

While there is no apparent financial link to Kenney and questionable donations to Callaway’s campaign—which the RCMP is actively probing—the fraud allegations are aimed straight at Kenney’s 2017 campaign team. They were first detailed in a letter to the RCMP by UCP legislator Prab Gill.  Gill alleged that organizers obtained phony email addresses attached to real Albertans, and used those to obtain passcode numbers (PINs) to vote in the UCP contest in bulk batches at “kiosk” computer stations, set up to avoid limits on any one computer voting multiple times. Mann has told CBC Calgary that when he recruited new party members  to help Kenney’s campaign, many signup forms didn’t have emails—then someone else added them. CBC’s own legwork add to the suspicion:

CBC News searched for historical registration data using DomainTools and confirmed that dozens of email addresses attached to UCP members were all purchased by anonymous sources in the lead-up to the UCP leadership vote, between Sept. 20 and Oct. 13, 2017. Many of those emails, with domains like link3mail.com and jaringmail.com, all link back to the same web host. It is not known who bought those email addresses. (CBC)

Kenney maintains his party followed all party rules, and says UCP legal counsel proactively offered assistance to police in any fraud investigation. The RCMP are indeed pursuing the allegations, rather than dismissing them outright, according to a party statement to Maclean’s on Wednesday.

“The RCMP have acknowledged receipt of our letter and have taken us up on our offer of assistance,” party executive director Janice Harrington said in a statement, following a question to the party’s lawyer. “The party is in the process of compiling and sharing information with the RCMP that demonstrates the integrity of the UCP leadership race.” Kenney and the party assert Gill and Mann are both discredited figures turfed from the party for their own misdeeds, and that “they’re spreading outright lies.” Many of Mann’s allegations about the Callaway campaign have been corroborated, including now by a $9,000 fine.

Kenney’s inner circle has downplayed the Callaway mess, stating that they have nothing to do with the financial side, and believe voters won’t care about past internal politics. Ethical questions are one thing for a frontrunner to bear. Legal questions, depending on how actively the RCMP is sniffing around on voter fraud allegations, are on a whole different plane.

NDP over-responds to new UCP revelations

As revelations and sniping from Liberals keep the SNC-Lavalin saga atop the news agenda, the federal Conservatives have tried cranking it past 11, promptly going nuclear by demanding Justin Trudeau resign, and later staging a Commons filibuster. The Alberta NDP find inspiration in weird places, given how they’re overdoing the response to fresh allegations of impropriety hitting Kenney, bidding to move the story forward.

Rachel Notley urged Kenney to publicly release all documents related to these leadership questions—a vexingly broad demand. Sarah Hoffman, the party’s deputy leader, called on Kenney to issue a sworn statement disputing all public reporting on this affair. A strange thing for a governing party to expect. In a letter and media scrum Wednesday, Hoffman “appeared to conflate the findings of the commissioner with a rundown of claims made by Mann and outlined in the commissioner’s letter,” CBC’s Drew Anderson writes. “The commissioner did not make any findings on the ‘kamikaze’ campaign or the role of Kenney or his campaign in that effort. Nor did the commissioner come to any conclusions with regard to the voter fraud allegations made by Mann.” It’s supposed to play to the NDP’s attack mantra: “Is this a premier?” One could ask in response: is this NDP overreach? But also: is this time to reasonably expect nuance? (CBC)

Rallying to protect LGBTQ youth

Kenney’s plan to ease NDP rules protecting gay-straight alliances continued Wednesday to spark outrage, bringing hundreds to protest at the legislature and then march to the UCP’s Edmonton headquarters. “Hey Jason, leave our kids alone!” went one Pink Floyd-esque chant. Many in the LGBTQ community and their allies feel threatened by the UCP promise, including those too young to vote. “We’re all kind of scared for ourselves, our friends, lots of people aren’t accepted at home so it’s scary that they may be outed to their parents,” said protest attendee Kenya Gaunt, 14.

It’s doubtful there were many UCP-leaning voters in that crowd, but the demonstration shows how passionate and visceral this issue can be. There’s another rally planned in Calgary on Thursday. But who will be less visible or in the streets? The active social conservatives and parents’ groups cheering on Jason Kenney’s counter-revolution. (Edmonton Journal)

The what and where of party promises

Rachel Notley tried to woo Fort McMurray, promising in the oilsands city a secondary highway route out of town, the need for which became glaringly obvious after the 2016 wildfires. It comes a week after she pledged $1 billion in flood protections for Calgary.

Kenney has thus far avoided trying to build his way into regional hearts, promising province-wide reforms and no new infrastructure. He bid to fortify the UCP’s rural base by offering tough-on-crime reforms, and on Thursday he’ll speak to urban anxieties about public disorder. He’ll announce how he’d tackle the opioid crisis at a restaurant near Calgary’s first safe drug consumption site, which the UCP has never favoured and which police say has brought higher crime in the vicinity, as well as headaches for small business and neighbours. (The facility is also supposed to curb fatal drug overdoses.) (Fort McMurray Today)

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