Elections Alberta asked to investigate bulk UCP membership purchases

UCP MLA Brian Jean has asked Elections Alberta to investigate what he calls "irregularities" in memberships purchased ahead of the party's leadership review. 

Jean alleges bulk United Conservative Party memberships were purchased on behalf of Albertans in order to skew the leadership vote results.

"We had an opportunity to look at the list and there was a large number of memberships, over 4,000, or the 4,000 range, that were purchased by just a handful of credit cards, including one American Express card that racked up about $20,000 worth of memberships," Jean told CTV in an interview.

"We believe that, more than likely, was people that represented Mr. Kenney's campaign."

Jean's spokesperson, Vitor Marciano, confirmed to CTV that he saw the membership spreadsheets, including payment methods, and filed the complaint about bulk UCP memberships purchased before March 31.

That is the date Alberta’s Bill 81 came into effect. 

Known as the Election Statutes Amendments Act, Bill 81 allows the buying of bulk memberships, which means one person can buy multiples on behalf of others -- without those people being notified.  It was passed in December 2021 but came into effect on March 31.

Jean alleges there were bulk memberships purchased before the act came in to force. Memberships purchased in order to vote in the leadership review had to be submitted by March 19.

In an email to CTV, a UCP spokesperson denied there was any wrongdoing in the lead-up to the party’s mail-in ballot.

"These claims are completely false and aren’t supported by any evidence. If you have proof of a person who has signed-up but not abided by the terms of membership, please submit the evidence as the membership would not be honoured," the statement said.

The party’s response adds all memberships are audited and are cancelled if they don’t meet requirements.

"To simplify the submission of cash memberships, the party may authorize the use of certain credit cards so that cash membership sales can be inputted directly into our online membership application," the statement said.

"This helps the party by putting the data entry work onto the person selling the membership. It is commonly done for nomination contestants."

Jean does not believe that is what happened in many memberships sold prior to March 31.

"What matters is Elections Alberta comes in, they do an investigation, they find out who bought the memberships, they find out who they bought them for, and they find out whether there was any illegal activities," he said.

"It doesn't matter what I think, it matters that the people of Alberta have a true opportunity to elect the leader they want in the next leadership race after this leadership review."

Jean is actively campaigning to oust Jason Kenney and to then become leader of the UCP. Results of the leadership review will be released May 18.

Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt says these latest allegations will damage not just Jason Kenney, but the party as it heads toward the next election.

"There’s clearly a lack of trust, not just between many grassroots members and some MLAs and the premier, but that extends to the party executive, which they believe is controlled by the premier," he said.

"When the results come out on May 18, this is just going to continue. The only result that people will believe is if Kenney loses. If Kenney wins there's going to be a significant amount of UCP members, not other Albertans but UCP members, who believe that it's fraudulent."

Bratt will not rule out Kenney calling a snap election following the leadership vote results in an effort to coalesce his party behind his leadership

"It would be difficult for him to do that if he gets less than 50, but if he gets 54 per cent, or 55 per cent, he may very well call a snap election and say (to party members)  ‘You're gonna have to choose a side. You either choose me and the UCP. Or you choose Rachel Notley and the NDP, right, you make the call."

Mount Royal University political scientist Keith Brownsey says with Kenney at the helm, the UCP will likely lose the next election, and these latest allegations will make it difficult for a successor to succeed as well.

"His (Kenney’s) reputation will be further tarnished, not because any allegations have been proven, legally or otherwise. It's because they're that suspicions that something is wrong with the party, that they cross ethical lines to their own advantage," he said.

"That is the dominant feature. That defines them. Now. That's the narrative they set for themselves in Alberta politics.

"People don't like that they will walk away. Now, they might not vote for the New Democrats, but they may just stay home, maybe they won't give money. They won't knock on doors. They won't work on campaigns. And they won't vote."

Jean says the UCP can win the next provincial election, but not with Kenney as leader.

"I believe that Mr. Kenney, as a result of his team's involvement in these types of situations from here and before, will be rejected by the people of Alberta one way or the other," he said.

"It's either going to be at the membership vote, or it's going to be very clearly in one year when the next election is against the NDP."

Kenney's leadership campaign spokesperson Brock Harrison told CTV News on Monday that nobody from their campaign has been contacted by Elections Alberta nor do they have any knowledge of an investigation.

"These allegations are coming from Mr. Jean, who has a long track record of falsely accusing his campaign opponents of cheating when he knows he is losing. This is nothing but a calculated attempt to sow doubt about his eventual defeat with baseless and unfounded allegations," said Harrison in a statement.

"We used a handful of credit cards authorized by the party to process cash membership sales through a web portal. These sales were made in person by our campaign and we then forward the membership sales forms to the party for verification against the web portal submissions. I understand the party as [sic] auditing processes in place for these submissions as well."

CTV reached out to Elections Alberta for information regarding Jean’s complaints and the subsequent investigation. The agency says restrictions in the Elections Act prevent it from discussing any complaints or investigations.

"Elections Alberta is unable to comment about allegations that we may or may not have received or investigations that we may or may not be conducting," read a statement.

"This is in accordance with the disclosure provisions in the Election Act (s. 206.1) and Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act (s. 5.2)."

CTV has reviewed the complaint submitted to Elections Alberta by Jean’s staff , along with documents showing a case number assigned to the file.