Premier Redford promises to release results of probe into Katz donations

By Keith Gerein, Edmonton Journal October 31, 2012

EDMONTON – Premier Alison Redford has vowed to make public the results of an investigation into large donations her party received from Oilers owner Daryl Katz and people connected to him.“We will make whatever information is communicated to our party publicly available as soon as possible,” Redford told the legislature Wednesday in response to a question from NDP Leader Brian Mason.

The transparency of the investigation, being conducted by Elections Alberta, has been a question mark. Chief electoral officer Brian Fjeldheim has said current legislation prevents him from revealing the details of his probes, including the names of any person or institution found guilty of illegal political donations.

A spokesman for Elections Alberta confirmed Thursday the agency must operate under the same parameters for the probe into election donations, meaning only brief, vague details can be shared with the public.

That means it will likely fall to the PC party to release whatever report or directive it receives from Fjeldheim when his investigation concludes.

Deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk joined Redford in confirming the party will do just that.

“We will not object to the releasing of the results,” he said. “We are very supportive of giving the chief electoral officer the ability to release these findings.”

He noted the government plans to introduce new legislation this fall that will compel Fjeldheim’s office to publicize the results of any investigations, though it is unclear if the bill will apply retroactively to events that happened before the bill’s proclamation date.

The PCs’ financial statement from the campaign period last spring shows Katz, three family members, his company and executives with the Katz Group collectively donated $300,000 to the party. Those donations came in $25,000 or $30,000 increments.

However, the Globe and Mail has reported, using an anonymous source, that Katz provided a single $430,000 cheque that was broken into smaller pieces.

Under Alberta’s election finance rules, the maximum that can be donated by a single source is $30,000.

After reviewing opposition complaints about the matter, Elections Alberta announced Wednesday that “sufficient concern” had been raised to warrant an investigation. Much of the probe will likely centre on any cheque, or cheques, the party received from Katz, his family and his associates.

While Redford has said she is confident her party complied with all election finance laws, opposition leaders have said the Tories could end the speculation now by proactively releasing copies of the cheques. The party has declined, citing a policy of not talking about specific donations, though Lukaszuk said Fjeldheim’s office will get full co-operation.

“Whatever he asks for, he will receive,” he said. “Albertans deserve to know and we will comply with any recommendations of that investigation.

“It will clear some air, because a lot of things are being said in the house which would leave Albertans with the impression that there is a lot of wrongdoing,” Lukaszuk added. “A lot of names are being dragged through the mud; now we will have an independent investigation and I think some of the accusers will have an opportunity to apologize.”

Lukaszuk joined other PC politicians in saying he doesn’t know any details of the Katz donations.

“That is absolutely ridiculous. Of course they know,” Mason said. “All they would have to do is pick up the phone (to their party executive) and ask.”

Opposition parties have spent the past week attacking the contributions, noting the Oilers owner has been seeking $100 million for a downtown arena, as well as provincial help to obtain gaming revenue to offset operational costs of the facility.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith pursued a different angle Wednesday, pressing Finance Minister Doug Horner for details on any meetings he had with Katz Group representatives to discuss funding or casino rules. She suggested such meetings constitute lobbying, though the Katz Group has not registered any lobbyists on the provincial list in 2011 or 2012.

Horner said he met with the Katz Group on the casino issue two-and-a-half years ago when he was deputy premier. At that time, the company did have a registered lobbyist, Peter Elzinga, who has served as provincial cabinet minister, chief of staff to former premier Ralph Klein, and as president of the PC party.

Horner was more vague about 2012, saying any meetings he had were with people who did not fit the definition of an official lobbyist. Under Alberta rules, anyone who spends more than 100 hours a year lobbying for an organization must register with the province.

“If you’re meeting with a president of a corporation, they don’t necessarily register themselves as a lobbyist because they’re there on behalf of their corporation,” Horner said. “I would also ask, how many people in Edmonton do you think don’t know what Mr. Katz is trying to do?”

Horner said the province has consistently said no to any requests for casino licence changes or arena money, which should remove suspicion that Katz’s donations influenced government policy.

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