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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

doing elections right in alberta.

Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft and Public Interest Alberta are taking legal action to force the Government of Alberta to improve how elections are organized in our province. The notice of motion lists thirteen issues ranging including the appointment of returning officers with partisan connections to not notifying opposition candidates of the relocation of voting stations to the lack of voting stations on post-secondary campuses and First Nations reservations. Elections in our province are far from the corrupt processes in other jurisdictions, but the process is hardly vibrant and extraordinary in any sense of the imagination.

During the 2008 provincial election, the impartiality of Alberta's electoral process came into question when it was discovered that half of the local Returning Officers had strong links to the governing Progressive Conservatives. Then-Liberal Leader Taft called for a complete review of how elections in Alberta are organized.

During the last election, Elections Alberta spokesperson Jacqueline Roblin told CBC that the list of returning officer nominees had "come right from the premier's office with these names that they are recommending that they be appointed." In the midst of an election campaign, Premier Ed Stelmach told the media in February 2008 that he would not review the appointment process.

After the 2008 election, Chief Electoral Officer Lorne Gibson submitted a long list of recommendations to the Legislative Assembly to change how elections are organized by giving more authority to the an independent elections office. Shortly afterward, Gibson's contract was not renewed by a PC MLA dominated committee. Not surprisingly, Taft once again tackled the issue during Question Period in that Legislative sitting.

In 2009, another partisan appointment was made during the Calgary-Glenmore by-election. Premier Stelmach later said that he had no problem with the Elections Office appointing officers, though no legislative changes have been made to reflect the statement. Earlier this month, former Chief Electoral Officer Brian Fjeldheim was re-appointed to the position (he served in the position previous to Gibson from 1998 to 2005).

I do not believe that improvements to Elections Alberta organization would have changed the outcome of the last election or even increased the voter turnout higher than 40%, but that is not the point. The integrity of our representative government is based on the strength of our democracy, a large part of which is expressed in our elections process.


Anonymous said...

What's the problem with Fjeldheim coming back? He did it before, there weren't any problems that I can see. He's got experience, why not? Stop being so partisan and disagreeing with what the Tories do just because they're Tories.

daveberta said...

What did I say about Fjeldheim? He was re-appointed.

Chris LaBossiere said...

I've always wondered why Kevin Taft is the spokesperson still for so many of the opposition issues forwarded by the Liberals.

The Liberals would do so much better with an interesting, compelling and/or attractive leader who people want to listen to. So when they make valid political opposition, which this is, we care to listen and give them points for trying, instead of having to block out the shrill, pedantic noise that is Taft.

CS said...

Does anyone have any "know" as to why Gibson was not renewed?

Anonymous said...

The Tories will work every advantage they can, from appointing loyal elections staff to refusing progressive reforms of riding boundaries. Each issue on its own may not be 'corrupt' but the pattern is there if one cares to look...

It is a pity that Taft is weak and that the Liberals are, well, called Liberals. A centrist party with a strong and connected leader (Bronconnier? Boutilier?) would make for an interesting election next time around.


johnnie h said...

Gibson's contract was not renewed because he dared to criticise the government.

Fred Dunn (Auditor General) has taken early retirement because "the writing is on the wall" for him for the same reason.

It remains to be seen what happens with the other Legislative Officers between now and the next election, though I think the rest are pretty safe. None of them have the same potentially critical duties as the Chief Electoral Officer and the Auditor General.

Again, the "Anonymous" PC apologist jumps into the debate - wrongly. There was no criticism of Fjeldheim's appointment in Dave's post that I saw.

A little sensitive are we?

The more important issue is what this Court challenge is all about.

I'm not aware of any jurisprudence in any Parliamentary system where an election has been challenged in the Court (Anonymous - the US is not a Parliamentary system).

Which means (depending on the availability of funds - Grant Dunlop is not going to do this pro bono beyond the initial application) that the likely scenario is the following:

The government responds to the application by seeking a Dismissal, as there is no lawful basis for such an application - and succeeds;

The Applicants appeal to the Alberta Court of Appeal and lose;

The Applicants appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada and (maybe) win. The SCC Orders the Alberta Court of Queens Bench to hear and determine the issue;

The Court of Queens Bench hears the Application and regardless of which way it decides, it is appealed to the Alberta Court of Appeal;

The Alberta Court of Appeal hears the appeal and regardless of which way it decides, the decision is appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada; and

The Supreme Court of Canada hears the appeal, and regardless what it decides, it's been 10 - 12 years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees (if not millions).

Or, the 2010 Spring Session of the Legislature, the PCs introduce a Bill to respond to (some of) the Recommendations of the Gibson - in which case it all becomes moot.

Regardless which way it goes, it seems to me to be nothing more than a political tactic - and an ill-thought out one at that.

Notwithstanding that I know Kevin Taft and Grant Dunlop, and have great respect for both, this does not seem to me to be an advisable course of action.

Anonymous said...

Chris Labossiere wants an "attractive" Liberal leader? That's the only attribute necessary for a good leader? Talk about narrow minded and downright prejudiced.

Justin said...

Chris: perhaps the Liberals didn't want to put their leader out front on this issue because they expected that it would be spun as "sour grapes" by the other side. Better to let Taft bring this forward to keep Swann out of the ensuing fray, and take advantage of Taft's special connection with this issue as the leader at the time of the last election.

Would that explanation work for you?