EDMONTON — Alberta's governing NDP fought donation controversies on two fronts Tuesday, pulling the plug on a big-ticket fundraiser in Edmonton just hours before it was set to begin.
Cheryl Oates, who speaks for Premier Rachel Notley, confirmed the party cancelled a portion of a fundraiser at the Art Gallery of Alberta after Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler announced she was investigating whether it squares with the Conflicts of Interest Act.
"The dinner has been postponed pending the outcome of the ethics commissioner's investigation, which she has agreed to do based on a complaint from the opposition," said Oates.
The main part of the art gallery event was a reception with tickets sold for $250 apiece, and that function still went ahead.
Alberta's NDP cancelled a fundraiser just hours before it started. (Photo: Chris Young/CP)
However, the party had also sold tickets at $1,000 apiece guaranteeing those ticket holders a private dinner with Notley and her MLAs at a separate room in the art gallery prior to the main event.
It was that $1,000-per ticket event that was cancelled and is under investigation.
Trussler had originally signed off on the $1,000-per-ticket event as meeting the provisions of the act.
But she reopened the matter after the opposition Wildrose party sent a letter early Tuesday asking for clarification.
Jason Nixon, the Wildrose critic for democratic accountability, said he doubts Trussler was given all the required information when she signed off on the $1,000-event in the first place.
"I never did think that the NDP were telling the ethics commissioner that they were having an exclusive, private, select-invite access to premier and cabinet event for money," said Nixon.
Notley's involvement with Ontario NDP questioned
Also Tuesday, the Wildrose asked Trussler to investigate Notley's role at a big-ticket Ontario NDP fundraiser last week that solicited donations from blue-chip multinational companies, some of whom do business in Alberta.
Nixon said that event in Toronto, hosted by Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, cost almost $10,000 a ticket, and he said it, too, raises questions around impartiality and the selling of access.
"It is unseemly and it is unethical."
"Alberta companies who cannot donate to the NDP in Alberta can pay 10 grand in Ontario to get special face-to-face interaction," said Nixon.
"It is unseemly and it is unethical."
In Alberta, corporations and unions are banned from donating to political parties under legislation passed by Notley's government last spring.
Notley said she also cleared that event beforehand with Trussler.
"I'm the leader of Alberta's NDP. Andrea Horwath is the leader of Ontario's NDP," Notley told a legislature news conference.
"It's not uncommon for certain sections of the party to ask leaders of other sections to come along to events to attract people.
"Andrea's a friend of mine," she added. "She asked me to do (this). I said, 'You know, I can probably give you one event in a year' ... and she invited me to come out to this.
"I actually don't think there's an issue here."
She said the Ontario NDP paid for her trip and kept all donation money raised.
"Andrea's a friend of mine. She asked me to do (this). I said, 'You know, I can probably give you one event in a year' ... and she invited me to come out to this."
Advertising for the event at the Royal York hotel was low-key. The fundraiser was billed on tickets as an evening with Horwath, whose party sits third in the Ontario legislature.
Karla Webber-Gallagher, provincial secretary for the Ontario NDP, said donors were eventually notified that Notley would be attending.
Legislature reporters in Alberta were told by Notley's office she was going to Toronto to accept an award.
Webber-Gallagher, in an email exchange, said the "intimate dinner" was with 20 donors.
Webber-Gallagher initially declined to name those who attended.
However, as Notley faced repeated questions in a news conference over whom she met with, the Ontario NDP released to Notley's office a list of those at the table.
They were: the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Labatt Canada, Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario, the Society of Energy Professionals, United Association, USW National, Teranet Inc., Borealis Infrastructure, Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association, General Electric and Eli Lilly Canada.
Nixon said the Toronto fundraiser reflects poorly on a premier who has fought to remove corporate influence in Alberta politics.
"(And) given the fact that all NDP parties across the country are under the same banner, we have to wonder if money or volunteer labour is being kicked back to the Alberta NDP," Nixon said.
Last May, the NDP was forced to backtrack after it tried to leverage the swearing-in of Notley and her cabinet into a party fundraising event.
Last November, the NDP caucus apologized to the legislature chamber after it was revealed the party was promoting access to Notley in her role as premier at a Calgary fundraiser.
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