Alberta is proposing legislation to make it easier to change dollar limits and rules surrounding gifts for elected officials.
It’s a move the Opposition NDP calls a self-serving ploy by Premier Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party government to better position itself to be on the receiving end of a gravy train of perks.
“The government trying to limit the value of gifts is like allowing a teenager to set their own curfew,” NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir told reporters Friday.
“These changes to the Conflicts of Interest Act are about protecting the UCP.”
“It means less transparency and more of that good old Conservative entitlement to backroom deals.”
Currently, non-monetary gifts to politicians are capped at $200 and elected officials can accept tickets worth up to $400 a year from any one source.
On Thursday, Justice Mickey Amery introduced a bill amending the act to allow cabinet to alter dollar amounts and rules as it sees fit without going back to the house to pass a bill.
“It gives us the ability to move with the current times when and if it’s required,” Amery said.
“It will allow for changes to happen that reflect the current landscape and environment.”
Last week, Smith said changes to the rules were needed because they were hampering her government’s ability to meet people and represent Albertans at events.
Smith cited the Oct. 29 Heritage Classic NHL outdoor game between the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium, one of the marquee events on the league’s regular season calendar.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took in the game.
Smith told the Ryan Jespersen podcast on Nov. 1 she didn’t attend the event based on advice from Marguerite Trussler, Alberta’s ethics commissioner.
“I don’t want to go to a game and then only be able to stay in a (private) suite for 20 minutes, so I declined,” Smith said on the podcast.
“I think most people expect that as a matter of course as premier or as a (cabinet) minister you have to do some of these things, because it’s such a great celebration of everything we have in Alberta.”
She said some of her caucus members were able to acquire tickets under the $200-limit for the game and could attend.
Smith said the 20-minute maximum rule also applies to private suites at the Calgary Stampede, Alberta’s signature summer festival.
Smith said Trussler also told her not to wash dishes at her husband’s restaurant.
In June, Smith posted pictures of her volunteering at the restaurant, prompting critics to say she was using her position to garner attention for a private business when it was put up for sale soon afterward.
“I want to stay within the rules, but sometimes if the rules haven’t kept up with where we find ourselves today, we may have to adjust them,” Smith told the podcast.
“I think there are some tweaks we may need (to the act).”
Smith ran afoul of Trussler during the spring provincial general election campaign, and Amery’s bill also makes changes resulting from that.
In mid-May, during the campaign, Trussler filed a public report sanctioning Smith for breaking ethics rules and seeking to undermine the rule of law by pressuring her then-justice minister to drop a court case involving a protester at the Canada-United States border crossing at Coutts, Alta.
Smith later apologized to the house for her actions.
Amery’s bill would stop the commissioner from investigating potential ethics breaches during the politically sensitive election period. He said the change mirrors legislation in Ontario and that Trussler herself urged the province to adopt such a rule.
Trussler’s term ends in May, and a legislature committee voted last week to strike a committee to search for her replacement.
Sabir said not renewing Trussler’s contract was punishment by the government for blowing the whistle on Smith during the election.
Amery said Trussler is free to apply again for the job.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2023.
© 2023 The Canadian Press