Is it just me or did things become even less transparent after Alison Redford swept back into power as premier of Alberta? First we have the Premier’s participation in the “by invitation only” Bilderberg meetings in Virginia. The Bilderberg is one of the most prestigious and secretive meetings in the world. Participants from the worlds of finance, politics, business, academia and communications come together to “discuss topics of current concern…in foreign affairs and international economy”.* The meetings are conducted under a cone of silence—a fact that is even more strange given the participation of the editor-in-chief of The Economist and two Economist reporters who are listed as rapporteurs. (A “rapporteur” is a person designated by an organization to report on its proceedings—perhaps they take the minutes in invisible ink.)
Redford said she’s attending because it’s the premier’s job to advance Alberta’s interests in different forums around the world.**
I don’t fault Ms Redford for accepting the invitation—I’d go too if only to see whether Bilderberg really is a cabal controlling the financial, economic and political forces of the planet. However, the Bilderberg website makes it clear that “participants attend Bilderberg in a private and not an official capacity”.
So notwithstanding Ms Redford’s attempt to characterize this as a business trip, I agree with Danielle Smith that Ms Redford should have travelled on her own dime. And yes, the $19,000 the taxpayers are paying to cover her travel expenses won’t break the bank but the fact the taxpayers are footing the bill in the first place is symptomatic of the way this government blurs the line between governmental activities and political ones.
Which leads me to the growing controversy over improper political contributions. We started the week with the government refusing to disclose how much money the PCs had received in illegal political contributions. They claimed their hands were tied because the former Chief Electoral Officer had recommended legislative changes that made both the investigation and its findings, confidential.
This—what shall we call it—misstatement, blew up in the PC’s face when the former Chief Elector Officer denied it. Then Deputy Premier Lukaszuk said the Electoral Officer could release whatever information he wished. This was contrary to what the Justice Minister had said the day before.
Instead of making it up on the fly I’d suggest that both the Deputy Minister and the Justice Minister read the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act. It is so tightly drafted (under Ms Redford’s watch as Justice Minister I might add) that it may well require an amendment in order to allow the Electoral Officer to disclose the amounts that were wrongly contributed to the PCs (or any other political party for that matter). Unfortunately an amendment won’t be possible until the Legislature resumes sitting in the fall. Meanwhile the gong show continues.
On Friday the story got another boost when the media reported that “indirect contributions” may have flowed from the University of Calgary to the PC party. The allegation involves a series of emails between U of C in-house counsel and Joe Lougheed, a Tory supporter and the son of the former premier. Mr Lougheed, a lawyer who was providing government relations services to the U of C at the time, describes the emails as “poorly drafted”. The U of C says it received “conflicting information” as to whether the donations were improper. The opposition is in an uproar and the ball is back in the Chief Electoral Officer’s court.
Given that the Chief Electoral Officer has identified 41 cases of questionable donations to date and administrative penalties have been paid or are pending in 19 of those cases the best way to resolve this mess is to follow Brian Mason’s (NDP) advice and call an independent public inquiry into PC fundraising. Ironically the one thing the Chief Electoral Officer does have the power to do under the existing legislation is to call a public inquiry. That would be a real example of transparency…will he have the courage to do it?
*Bilderberg Official Website
**Calgary Herald Online May 30, 2012