A major rival to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he fears a mail-in leadership vote will be rampant with cheating and fraud — a claim that Kenney’s campaign team says is baseless.
Brian Jean, who last week retained a seat for Kenney’s United Conservatives in a byelection, says he is having a sense of déjà vu.
The two men co-founded the UCP, but Jean lost the leadership to Kenney in 2017 in a race marred by allegations of collusion and voting irregularities.
Jean said Friday he’d again heard of possible membership mining to harvest favourable ballots for Kenney.
“It doesn’t matter how he tries to cheat or how he tries to manipulate the system, and how his team tries to do things to stay in power,” said Jean. “If (Kenney) stays in power, the UCP is gone.”
Earlier this week, the party cancelled an in-person meeting in Red Deer, Alta., where thousands of members were to cast their vote on Kenney’s future and replaced it with the mail-in ballot.
The decision has drawn harsh criticism from some members of Kenney’s caucus, two of whom broke ranks Thursday to call for his resignation.
In Edmonton, groups that have been rounding up votes against Kenney announced Friday that they would be asking the provincial elections commissioner to investigate concerns that rules were broken in the days leading up to the deadline for buying UCP memberships.
Vitor Marciano, representing Jean, and David Parker of the citizens’ advocacy group Take Back Alberta, said they’re concerned membership rolls were improperly inflated by Kenney supporters just before last Saturday’s cutoff.
They said the membership list was at about 29,000 before almost doubling to 55,000 in the space of a few days.
The two estimate 18,000 names may have been added without the registrants’ knowledge and with the $10 fee for each paid in bulk by credit card or cheque. The actions would violate provincial election laws, they said.
They said they believe some of the memberships in question were paper ones while the rest were added electronically and shipped via a secret web portal set up by the party.
Marciano and Parker said they have asked for, but have not received, a direct answer from the party on whether it set up such a portal.
Harrison Fleming, a spokesman for Kenney’s leadership review campaign, said the allegations don’t hold.
“We can absolutely confirm that every member, signed up through a campaign event hosted by the Jason Kenney team, signed their forms and paid the $10 fee,” Fleming said in a statement. He added they would welcome an audit of new members.
“While Mr. Jean might want to spend his time suing the UCP to prevent members from voting, we are encouraged by the widespread interest from UCP members to remain engaged and active in this big-tent conservative movement.”
Marciano and Parker also referred to the 2017 UCP contest.
“We know that has happened in the last (vote),” said Parker. “We want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Added Marciano: “Sunlight is a really good disinfectant.”
—Alanna Smith and Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press