Jason Kenney’s leadership campaign has been hit with a $5,000 fine for flouting the rules at last week’s Progressive Conservative delegate selection meeting in Edmonton-Ellerslie.
In a 10-page ruling, the party’s chief returning officer, Rob Dunseith, found the Kenney campaign’s hospitality suite with free food and booze, just 15 paces from where delegates for the March leadership convention were being selected, was “precisely the type and locality of campaigning” rules were meant to prohibit.
Further, Dunseith found that Kenney, who wants to dissolve the Progressive Conservative party and unite it with Wildrose, should not have entered the Mill Woods golf course clubhouse at all.
Kenney’s presence and the suite caused a heated debate in the hallway of the building before the start of the meeting Wednesday night, and resulted in two official complaints made by the leadership campaigns of Richard Starke and Bryon Nelson.
In response to those complaints, Kenney’s campaign manager c questioned the clarity of the rules, which say campaigning can’t occur “in or near” the room where a delegate selection meeting is being held.
But Dunseith found the hospitality suite “was obviously meant to sway voters, or reinforce their resolve to support Kenney delegates.”
As for Kenney entering the club house, Dunseith agreed with Weissenberger that “what constitutes ‘near’ is open for debate.”
It’s all about context, he said — being near enough to catch a baby is very different from being too near to an atomic explosion — but concluded “that context is not difficult here.”
Kenney was walking among delegates waiting to attend the meeting, he found; delegates who were entitled to vote “without being subject to last-minute campaigning or pressure.”
All four candidates in the PC leadership battle have put up a $20,000 good behaviour bond.
While Dunseith found Kenney’s breach wasn’t serious enough to warrant full forfeiture of that cash, he noted two “aggravating factors” in recommending a $5,000 fine.
First, comments of Kenney organizer Alan Hallman who, when warned that his campaign would risk a fine if the candidate came into proximity of the meeting, said the campaign could afford it.
There was also the “‘inescapable appearance” that Kenney’s campaign decided to test the boundaries of the campaign rules rather than asking for guidance around their specific plans for the evening. Dunseith recommended that a portion of the fine be used to defray the costs of a second delegate selection meeting.
All 15 of the delegates selected at the last meeting, along with the five alternates, were aligned with the Kenney camp.
“Our party is committed to a fair, open and transparent race during this leadership process,” party president Katherine O’Neill said in a media release.
“We want to rebuild our trust and relationship with all Albertans.” Kenney cannot appeal the decision.