A Calgary judge denied an injunction Wednesday that would have postponed an investigation into the United Conservative Party’s leadership race until after Alberta’s April 16 provincial election.
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker says although it is important for the election commissioner to avoid bias or the appearance of bias, it’s in the public interest for the investigation to continue.
“The commissioner faces statutorily mandated time limits to complete his investigation. Granting an interlocutory injunction risks those time limits running out before the issues in dispute are finally resolved,” Kirker said.
“Even if there were evidence of irreparable harm to the applicants, it would be, in my view, outweighed by the interests of the public in having investigation of the complaint involving the applicants completed.”
Alberta’s elections commissioner and the RCMP are investigating how leadership candidate Jeff Callaway’s campaign in 2017 was funded. The commissioner has already issued some fines for illegal donations to Callaway’s campaign.
A lawyer for several people involved in the Callaway campaign had argued that the investigation was inappropriate in the runup to the provincial vote and could be perceived as biased.
Kirker said the applicants had a point on that matter.
“The commissioner does make determinations as he proceeds through his investigations, which he is entitled to do. But the functions are so intertwined that it is difficult to distinguish between the commissioner’s investigation and decision making roles,” the judge said.
“There is a higher duty upon the commissioner to avoid both actual bias and the appearance of bias. I am satisfied that the applicants have established that there is a serious issue to be tried.”
The probe has been going on since January.
Callaway was one of several candidates vying for leadership of the UCP, which was born out of a merger between the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Party.
Callaway dropped out of the race and threw his support behind Jason Kenney, who went on to lead the new party.
Documents leaked last month suggest Kenney’s campaign team directed Callaway to attack and criticize Kenney’s main rival, Brian Jean of the Wildrose.
The NDP candidate for Calgary-Varsity said outside court Wednesday that using the court’s time to try and stop the investigation is “scandalous.” But she was pleased with the outcome.
“I think Albertans deserve to know what happened in that leadership race. Was it fair and square? Were the rules followed or was there a candidate put there specifically to support Mr. Kenney and to defeat Brian Jean?” asked Anne McGrath.
“I think that is something that Albertans care about. They want to know that their politics are clean.”
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press