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Notley asks Lt-Gov. to protect bureaucrat that targeted a conservative journalist

Bill 22 will merge the position of Election Commissioner into the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, ending Commissioner Lorne Gibson’s contract in the process.

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley has asked the Lieutenant-Governor to block a bill that would result in the firing of the Election Commissioner position she created.

Earlier this week, Notley wrote to Lt-Gov. Lois Mitchell asking her to reject the recently introduced Bill 22 if it passes the legislature.

“While I recognize that it is unusual for the lieutenant-governor to exercise this authority, I am convinced that the exceptional nature of this proposed legislation calls for such extraordinary measures,” Notley wrote.

Notley has also asked the ethics commissioner himself to block the UCP from voting on Bill 22. 

Bill 22, since passed, will merge the position of Election Commissioner into the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, ending Commissioner Lorne Gibson’s contract in the process.

Gibson’s six-figure position was revived by the NDP in 2018 to investigate third-party advertisers in Alberta’s elections. Gibson was previously the Chief Electoral Officer of Alberta but his contract was not renewed by the former Progressive Conservative government in 2009. He sued the government for wrongful dismissal but lost his case.

During his time as election commissioner, the NDP-appointed Gibson had targeted conservative journalist Sheila Gunn Reid. Shortly before the provincial election, Gibson accused her of violating election laws after she published a book critical of Notley.

Gibson ordered Gunn Reid to give up her notes and private emails, which she refused. Ultimately Gibson did not prosecute Gunn Reid, but not without significant costs to her.

“The elections commissioner made the process of the investigation the punishment, and my legal fees are my defacto fines for fighting back,” said Gunn Reid.

After backing down, Gibson complained in a letter that he could only enforce the law as it was “currently written”. 

“Fortunately for Sheila Gunn Reid, my office is only able to enforce the legislation as it is currently written,” Gibson said.

The Alberta NDP has argued that firing Gibson would be unethical as he is currently investigating the UCP for violations during the 2017 UCP leadership race.

While accused of trying to shut down investigations, the UCP bill says that the combined office can continue previously started investigations.

 “This is about defensible structure. This is about ensuring the most efficient operation of government,” Finance Minister Travis Toews told the media.

The chief electoral officer is an independent office that would be able to engage in the same type of investigations as the current commissioner under Bill 22.

Notley was removed from the legislative assembly Tuesday for saying that the UCP was lying to Albertans about Bill 22.

Speaker Nathan Cooper had to speak up and remind Notley that such a statement is inappropriate. Notley refused to apologize and was ordered to leave.

On Wednesday, Notley said she is not willing to apologize as of yet.

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