The United Conservative Party is facing another obstacle in the tumultuous lead-up to its announcement of the leadership review vote on May 18.
A letter obtained by CBC News shows Elections Alberta is investigating allegations made about bulk UCP membership purchases.
In the letter, the investigator writes, “depending on how these purchases were financed, a violation of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act (EFCDA), and related Elections Alberta guidelines, may have occurred.”
In an email statement to CBC on Saturday, a UCP spokesperson said “we’ve not been contacted by Elections Alberta and are not aware of any investigation.”
The statement adds that membership purchases are accepted in three ways: with someone paying on a personal credit card for themselves or family, by cheque, or by cash if the person signs a membership application confirming their identity.
Brian Jean, a UCP caucus member and political foe of Jason Kenney, has been vocal about his concerns that some of the approximately 59,000 voters in the leadership vote were possibly signed up for memberships without their knowledge and with their $10 registration paid by someone else.
Vitor Marciano, an aide working for Jean, confirmed to CBC News that the Jean campaign made a complaint at the end of March to Elections Alberta about concerns that UCP memberships were purchased in bulk before Bill 81 came into effect. Marciano said they named the Kenney campaign as part of their complaint.
Marciano believes others also filed complaints to Elections Alberta as well.
“I believe we weren’t the only ones, but I don’t know for a fact,” he said.
It is not known if the complaint from the Jean campaign is what spurred the investigation by Elections Alberta.
Elections Alberta did not respond to CBC’s requests for comment.
The sticking point
A major sticking point in all of this is The Election Statutes Amendment Act, or Bill 81, which was passed in December.
The controversial bill allows for someone to buy memberships in other people’s names without those people being notified.
However, Bill 81 did not come into effect until March 31.
The memberships in question that were purchased in order for voters to vote in the leadership review had to be bought by the deadline of March 19.
Marciano alleges there are about 4,000 new memberships that were processed by six credit cards.
“I don’t know whose credit cards they are. I just know that somebody was buying memberships for somebody,” he said.
In a statement in early April, Jean said he saw evidence from the UCP board and was confident that about 92 per cent of the signatures were legitimate enough to carry on with the leadership review.
Marciano said they chose not to file a complaint internally within the party for arbitration because they feared it “actually risked delaying the vote and risked creating an opportunity to sell more dubious memberships.”
A delay could have pushed the vote past March 31, when bulk membership purchasing would be allowed.
Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said Elections Alberta’s investigation will only deepen the lack of trust in the outcome of the vote.
“If Kenney gets above 50 per cent, no matter what that number is, there is now going to be renewed suspicion that he cheated to win,” said Bratt.
“Fundamentally, this goes to a lack of trust, a lack of trust in the process, a lack of trust between the party executive and many party members. And it could extend to a lack of trust on the result.”
This break down in trust stems back to an ongoing investigation by the RCMP into voter irregularities that dates back to the 2017 leadership race, he added.
“There’s a reason that people are suspicious of the review vote and they’re suspicious of the review vote because of what occurred in 2017. They’re suspicious of the vote because of Bill 81,” said Bratt.
“This isn’t some internal party squabble that has no effect on non-party members or non-Albertans. This is the government of Alberta as well.”