Alberta Premier Alison Redford has pledged to publicize the results of an investigation into a donation her Progressive Conservatives received from billionaire Daryl Katz during this year's spring election campaign.
The commitment marks a change of tune and comes a day after Alberta's Chief Electoral Officer announced that he would investigate the matter and as Ms. Redford faces questions from within her own party.
The Globe and Mail has reported Mr. Katz, founder of the Rexall pharmacy chain and owner of the Edmonton Oilers, wrote the PCs one cheque for $430,000 – nearly a third of the party's total campaign fundraising. It was then allotted to several entities for receipt purposes. Alberta caps individual donations at $30,000.
The PCs have declined to answer questions on the cheque by repeatedly deferring to Chief Electoral Officer Brian Fjeldheim, suggesting they'll co-operate with him but not release any specific information otherwise.
Elections Alberta's investigations are, however, not typically made public. For instance, the agency has found over the past year 45 cases of illegal donations made to provincial political parties, and issued fines in 31 of the cases – but the donors, recipients, donations and subsequent fines have all remained hidden.
The same rules would apply to this investigation. "The legislation does not allow us to release our investigation findings to the public," spokesman Drew Westwater said Wednesday.
But Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk said earlier in the day that he expects this case to be different.
"We are very supportive of giving the Chief Electoral Officer the ability to release his findings. Albertans deserve to know. They shall find out," he said, adding it could mean changing the law.
Later, during Question Period, Ms. Redford said that if Mr. Fjeldheim doesn't release the results of the investigation, the PCs will. "Of course we will make whatever information is communicated to our party publicly available as soon as possible," Ms. Redford said.
Ms. Redford and Mr. Lukaszuk have said they don't know if their party received a single cheque – an "absolutely ridiculous" statement, New Democratic Leader Brian Mason said. "All they'd have to do is pick up a phone and ask," he said Wednesday.
It's not clear how long an investigation could take. But Mr. Westwater has said officials can ask for any documents – such as bank statements – that are relevant to the investigation.
Behind the scenes within the party, the donation issue has become a hot topic. Stephen Carter, a top strategist on Ms. Redford's campaign, said he didn't know about the cheque, but would advise the party to release letters that show the donations came from the pockets of each individual or company named in records submitted to Elections Alberta.
"If they don't have that," Mr. Carter said, "They've got to give [the money] back right now."
Patrick Walsh, who was a fundraiser for the Wildrose Party before he joined the PCs and worked on Ms. Redford's campaign, said a staffer in Ms. Redford's office recently contacted him to ask about Wildrose accounting practices. (Wildrose, for instance, has said it would accept a cheque for up to $60,000 from spouses with a joint bank account).
Mr. Walsh believes the PCs should release cheques and deposit slips with personal information blacked out.
"If it's one cheque, then that money should be returned – absolutely. That's the only way you can undo it," Mr. Walsh said.
One long-time Tory party organizer, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about the matter, told his party that, if the money came in a single cheque, those involved in accepting the cheque should be fired. "We should give it back. And heads should roll in terms of whoever accepted this cheque. Our judgment is poor on this," the source said.
Ms. Redford's staff referred questions to the PC party, which declined to comment on internal decisions. Mr. Katz has repeatedly declined comment on the issue. He's pressing for a new NHL arena to be built in Edmonton, one the province has said repeatedly it won't directly fund.
Keith Brownsey, a political scientist with Mount Royal University in Calgary, suggested the party should be transparent and look into reforming notoriously loose campaign financing laws. "Get some legislation passed immediately that limits campaign donations by everybody."
Mr. Mason, the NDP Leader, has little faith the investigation will actually be made public.
"They're withholding the information, they're hiding it from the public and saying you're going to find out eventually," he said. "Well, should we trust them? Maybe not."