Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in attendance for money talks in fake leadership campaign: witnesses


On a summer night in 2017, a wide array of Alberta political operatives sat around Jeff Callaway’s dining room table in northwest Calgary, eating Indian food, while booze flowed afloat.

It was there that they hatched the final plan for Callaway, a former chairman of the Wildrose Party, to enter the United Conservative Party leadership race in what would become colloquially known as the kamikaze campaign.

He had one goal: to promote Jason Kenney’s leadership bid by undermining that of his biggest political rival, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean. Callaway was ready to be the kamikaze candidate.

According to accounts from two people who were there, Kenney personally set the key terms of this plan and was, at a minimum, present during discussions about its funding.

Some of those convicted by the Office of the Elections Commissioner (OEC) after an investigation are challenging their fines through judicial review. CBC News has gone through tens of thousands of pages of documents that have been filed in the Court of Queen’s Bench in connection with these cases.

Unpublished transcripts of interviews conducted by OEC investigators have shed light on the events of the summer of 2017. None of the allegations they contain have been tested in court.

The leadership race

After successfully uniting the defunct Progressive Conservative Party and the Wildrose Party into the United Conservative Party, Kenney was running to lead the merged parties in the October leadership race.

A longtime MP and minister in Stephen Harper’s federal government, he ran his leadership campaign from a blue van, criss-crossing Alberta, promising an end to the provincial carbon tax and a revitalized economy.

Former Alberta Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean arrives with donuts and coffee at a campaign whistle in Olds, Alberta during the May 2015 Alberta election. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

There was little light between the political leadership of the Kenney campaign and that of his closest political rival Brian Jean. But the race was choppy and sometimes personal. The winner of the UCP leadership race had a better chance of becoming Alberta’s next premier.

At Callaway’s house table that night were political communications consultant Cameron Davies and Hardyal “Happy” Mann, widely known as a political power broker in South Asian communities, who would later become cooperating witnesses. investigation by the Elections Office. Commissioner, key to reconstituting the whole device.

Their interviews with investigators describe a group of loyal political operatives bent on getting Kenney elected leader of the United Conservative Party, willing to push the boundaries of electoral standards to do so.

Director of Political Communications Cameron Davies was a cooperating witness with the Office of the Electoral Commissioner in its investigation into the 2017 UCP leadership race. (Submitted by Cameron Davies)

CBC News provided Duane Bratt, a Mount Royal University political scientist who has closely followed developments in the suicide campaign story, with copies of two key interviews.

“It’s the first real kind of thing we’ve had connecting Jason Kenney himself to what was going on with Callaway,” he said.

Kenney denied any personal knowledge of the suicide campaign or its financing.

“They had him meet with Callaway and, more importantly, discuss money,” Bratt said after reading the transcripts.

“It was carefully orchestrated from the start.”

The plan

Others present that evening in July 2017 were a who’s who of federal and provincial Conservative campaign heavyweights.

There was Shuvaloy Majumdar, a former director of foreign policy in the Harper government.

Former Harper campaign manager John Weissenberger was also present. He had signed on to chair Kenney’s “Unite the Right” and UCP leadership campaigns.

Brad Tennant, who would become the executive director of the United Conservative Party, was there in a senior campaign role.

And Kenney was also there.

Hardyal (Happy) Mann was one of the witnesses who spoke to investigators from the Office of the Election Commissioner. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

According to an interview with Cameron Davies by OEC investigators, the group collectively hatched an agenda for Callaway to harm Jean’s campaign.

“It was made clear that Jeff’s campaign needed to run some sort of dark horse campaign, which Jason’s team just wouldn’t be able to do effectively,” Davies said in the interview.

“Jason Kenney’s Negatives [polling] the numbers were too negative to start pitching against anyone.”

Jean had enough support, especially among rural supporters of the Wildrose party, to be a concern for the Kenney camp.

According to multiple sources who worked on Kenney’s campaign, a marginal victory simply wasn’t good enough for Kenney or his campaign strategists. They wanted big numbers to telegraph his popularity and prove that the right was truly united in Alberta.

“A lot of deep-rooted resentments”

Callaway was willing to sacrifice his own ambitions for this cause. Davies told investigators that Callaway had “a lot of deep-seated resentment” toward Jean and that it “fueled her will to do what Jason wanted.”

Callaway’s list of grievances, according to Davies, included “his perception of being bullied by Brian Jean; the poor leadership he experienced with Brian Jean”.

Callaway, he told investigators, also believed Jean had “undermined” efforts to unite the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose behind the scenes.

Witnesses described to investigators a meeting held at Jeff Callaway’s home to plan his entry into the UCP leadership race. (Radio Canada)

Not everyone around the table agreed with the plan. Davies said Kenney’s campaign manager, Weissenberger, “takes it a bit of an insult” that Kenney’s campaign needs help securing a decisive win.

He was, according to both interviews, convinced by former Wildroser Tennant that Kenney had not yet earned the full loyalty of the rank and file members of Wildrose.

They needed Callaway to remove support from Jean.

When Callaway agreed to run and attack Jean, Davies said, Kenney “was laughing and drinking all night. He was very appreciative that Callaway was willing to do it.”

He quoted Kenney saying, “I don’t want to know the details. You coordinate them with my team.”

But Davies said Kenney had his own terms.

“Jason was very adamant that Callaway had to step down on a specific date and that Callaway had to endorse Jason Kenney.”

Callaway wanted an option to stay long term, Davies said, but Kenney made it clear he was not a starter.

Campaign finance

It turns out running a bogus campaign isn’t against election law, but funding it with irregular donations is, and OEC investigators wanted to know where the money came from and who was behind it. running.

The OEC has since alleged that its investigation found that the bulk of Callaway’s campaign funding, $60,000, came from a last-minute cash influx. Corporate donations are prohibited by Alberta election laws. The money was reportedly channeled to the campaign through so-called “straw” donors, who agreed to put their names on donations they had never made.

But that night, as the plan was hatched, money didn’t matter, according to Mann and Davies.

“Don’t worry. It’ll be handled, we’ll fundraise,” Davies told investigators, was the collective response to questions about Callaway’s campaign finance.

Jason Kenney speaks to the media at his first convention as leader of the United Conservative Party in Red Deer, Alberta in May 2018. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

In a separate interview with OEC, Mann corroborated this account, drawing a straight line to Kenney.

“I said, ‘Jason, if you want all of this to happen, then where are the funds coming from? And Jason told me directly that the funds would come.”

He would later tell investigators that he did not remember who said this, only that it was said.

These accounts contrast sharply with what Kenney would claim about his involvement. He admitted to being present at the July 2017 meeting, but only to seek “approval” from Callaway. As for the money?

“I had absolutely no idea how they funded their campaign,” he told reporters of the Callaway camp on March 18, 2019.

Bratt said the interviews put a hole in that claim.

“It didn’t seem plausible, but now you have two people independent of each other saying that Kenney said the money isn’t the problem or he was in the room when the money went. been discussed.

A spokesperson for Kenney told CBC News in an email that he was unaware of court documents and previous public statements about the case.

Gift

Certainly, Kenney was grateful to Callaway. In October 2017, shortly after dropping out of the race and endorsing Kenney, a thank-you party was held at Callaway’s, according to interviews.

Davies and Mann said Kenney presented the dark horse contestant with a bottle of “Alberta Dark Horse” whiskey. The ironic gift metaphor did not escape any of the seasoned political actors celebrating that night.

The bottle of Dark Horse whiskey that Jason Kenney gave to Jeff Callaway in 2017 at a thank-you party for the suicide bomber candidate. (Submitted)

Everything may have ended on this positive note if an anonymous whistleblower had not sent a complaint to the Office of the Commissioner of Elections, which looked into the matter.

Since then, following the largest election investigation ever conducted in Alberta, more than $200,000 in fines have been imposed on Callaway, campaign staff and “straw” donors. Many fines are subject to judicial review.

Evidence gathered from this investigation and another criminal complaint led to an RCMP investigation into the financing of the suicide campaign and the alleged theft of voter identities during the same leadership race. .

The RCMP statement said that for the past three years, its investigation into “election irregularities” in the UCP leadership race is still active.

“This is a very large and complex investigation that has involved many years of work and multiple lines of investigation,” the statement said.

The Prime Minister’s Office has not responded to multiple emails from CBC News asking if Jason Kenney has been questioned by the RCMP or Elections Alberta or if either has requested an interview.