EDITORIAL: United Conservative Party needs to clean up its internal votes

Jason Kenney (L) speaks and is accompanied by Alberta MLA Prab Gill (R) at a press event in Calgary on Friday November 4, 2016. Jim Wells / Postmedia

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In politics, it’s never wise to leave blanks for pundits and voters to fill in with their own wild conspiracy theories. So we urge the United Conservative Party to release details of alleged ballot-stuffing at the annual general meeting of its constituency association in Calgary-North East, ASAP.

It’s probably small potatoes. Who really cares who was elected chairperson of the policy committee in one riding association of one party?

Still, for a party trying to shake off the old Tory party’s image of corruption, the UCP has to be seen to be squeaky clean. That is particularly true after the nomination of Deputy Leader Leela Aheer deteriorated into allegations and counter-allegations of strong-arming and favouritism.

The public is truly in the dark about the alleged misbehaviours in Calgary-North East.

On June 30, a smartphone video released on the Internet made allegations that someone, perhaps connected with UCP MLA and deputy caucus whip Prab Gill, tampered with vote tallies during the election of constituency association officers in Calgary-North East.

But just what irregularities are being claimed is unclear. The party hasn’t release any details.

On Thursday, it was announced that Gill had resigned his party post pending an independent investigation. Then that evening, party leader Jason Kenney said the investigation had been completed but no details would be released – yet.

And Gill is not back on the job. In fact, he resigned from caucus on Saturday.

The UCP has very strict rules against electioneering at official party meetings. For instance, candidates for UCP nominations and their supporters are not permitted to wear campaign buttons, hats or t-shirts or distribute campaign material at AGMs such as the one that has generated so much controversy in Calgary.

It was allegations of electioneering at a meeting of the new Chestemere-Strathmore constituency association that led to a challenger of Leela Aheer’s being forcibly removed. That led to the challenger, David Campbell, choosing not to seek the UCP nomination against Deputy Leader Aheer, which led to her being acclaimed under a cloud.

Now the allegations in Calgary-North East appear to involve UCP MLA Gill attempting to make sure a constituency board favourable to him was selected. Or not. Again, the exact nature of the charges and the investigation aren’t being released.

Most voters probably aren’t one bit interested in the niggly details of he-said, she-said of internal UCP riding association politics in either Chestemere-Strathmore or Calgary-North East or any of the other 85 ridings in Alberta.

However, the problem the UCP has is that an accumulation of these bitter infights starts to leave a stench – a stench that will do the party no good in next spring’s general election.

Voters are already fed up with the NDP over the government’s mismanagement of Alberta’s finances and economy. Polls show them behind the UCP time and again. If they then come to think the UCP is nothing more than a rehash of the old Tories, it is entirely possible a third alternative – say the Liberals or Alberta Party – will rise up.

Unless the UCP wants that to happen, it had better get a tighter rein on its constituency clubs.