Alberta Premier Jason Kenney Presents for Money Discussions in False Leadership Campaign: Witnesses

One summer night in 2017, a wide group of Alberta political agents sat around Jeff Callaway’s dining table in northwest Calgary, eating Indian food while booze flowed freely.

It was there that they hatched the final plan for Callaway, a former president of the Wildrose party, to take part in the United Conservative Party’s leadership race in what would become known in everyday speech as the kamikaze campaign.

It had one purpose: to benefit Jason Kenney’s leadership by harming his biggest political rival, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean. Callaway was ready to be a kamikaze candidate.

According to reports from two people who were there, Kenney personally set the key conditions for this plan and was at least present during discussions about funding it.

Some of the people who have since been fined by the Electoral Commissioner’s Office (OEC) following an investigation are challenging their fines at a court hearing. CBC News searched tens of thousands of pages of documents that have been filed with the Court of Queen’s Bench as part of these cases.

Never before have transcripts of interviews conducted by investigators with the OEC shed light on the events of the summer of 2017. None of the allegations in them have been tested in court.

The leader race

After uniting the now defunct Progressive Conservative Party and Wildrose Party in the United Conservative Party, Kenney lined up to lead the merged parties in the leadership contest in October.

He was a longtime MP and minister in Stephen Harper’s federal government, running his leadership campaign from a blue pickup across Alberta, promising an end to the province’s carbon tax and a revitalized economy.

Former Alberta Wildrose party leader Brian Jean arrives with donuts and coffee for a campaign whistle stop in Olds, Alta., During the May 2015 Alberta election. (Jeff McIntosh / Canadian Press)

There was little light between the political direction of the Kenney campaign and his closest political rival Brian Jean. But the race was fierce and sometimes personal. The winner of the UCP leadership race had a better than fair chance of becoming the next premier in Alberta.

At the table in Callaway’s house that evening sat political communications consultant Cameron Davies and Hardyal “Happy” Mann, commonly known as a political power broker in South Asian communities, who would later become co-witnesses in the Election Office investigation. Commissioner, the key to bringing the whole system together.

Their interviews with investigators describe a group of loyal political agents who intend to get Kenney elected as leader of the United Conservative Party, willing to push the boundaries of election norms to do so.

Director of Political Communications, Cameron Davies, was a collaborating witness with the Electoral Commissioner’s Office in their 2017 investigation into the UCP leadership race. (Posted by Cameron Davies)

CBC News provided Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University who has closely followed the evolution of kamikaze campaign history, with copies of two important interviews.

“This is the first real kind of thing we have that connects Jason Kenney himself with what was going on with Callaway,” he said.

Kenney has denied any personal knowledge of the kamikaze campaign or its funding.

“They’ve got him meeting Callaway and, more importantly, discussing money,” Bratt said after reading the transcripts.

“This was carefully orchestrated from the beginning.”

The plan

Others present that evening in July 2017 were one who is who of federal and provincial conservative campaign heavyweights.

There was Shuvaloy Majumdar, a former director of foreign policy in Harper’s government.

Former Harper campaign manager John Weissenberger was there as well. He had signed on to chair Kenney’s “Unite the Right” and UCP leadership campaigns.

Brad Tennant, who would continue to be the executive director of the United Conservative Party, was there in a senior campaign role.

And Kenney was also present.

Hardyal (Happy) Mann was one of the witnesses talking to investigators with the election commissioner’s office. (Dan McGarvey / CBC)

According to an interview with Cameron Davies by OEC investigators, the group jointly came up with an agenda for Callaway to do damage to Jean’s campaign.

“It was made quite clear that Jeff’s campaign was to run a kind of dark-horse campaign that one felt Jason’s team just would not be able to do effectively,” Davies said in the interview.

“Jason Kenney’s Negative Side [polling] the numbers were too negative to start hurling at anyone. “

Jean had enough support, especially among rural Wildrose Party supporters, to be a concern for the Kenney camp.

According to several sources working on Kenney’s campaign, a marginal victory was simply not good enough for Kenney or his campaign strategists. They wanted large numbers to telegraph his popularity and prove that the right wing was truly united in Alberta.

‘A lot of deep-rooted anger’

Callaway was willing to sacrifice his own ambitions for that cause. Davies told investigators that Callaway had a “very deep-rooted anger” toward Jean, and that “drove his will to do what Jason wanted.”

According to Davies, Callaway’s list of complaints included “his perception of being bullied by Brian Jean; bad management that he experienced with Brian Jean.”

Callaway, he told investigators, also believed Jean “undermined” efforts to unite the progressive conservatives and Wildrose behind the scenes.

Witnesses described to investigators a meeting held at Jeff Callaway’s house to plan his entry into the UCP leadership race. (CBC)

Not everyone at the table agreed on the scheme. Davies said Kenney’s campaign manager Weissenberger “took it as a bit of an insult” that Kenney’s campaign needed help to secure a decisive victory.

According to both interviews, he was convinced by former Wildroser Tennant that Kenney had not yet won the full loyalty of grassroots Wildrose members.

They needed Callaway to remove the support from Jean.

When Callaway agreed to run and attack Jean, Davies said Kenney “laughed and drank all night. He was very grateful that Callaway was willing to do this.”

He quoted Kenney as saying, “I do not want to know the details. You are coordinating it with my team.”

But Davies said Kenney had some conditions of his own.

“Jason was very convinced that Callaway had to retire on a set date, and Callaway had to support Jason Kenney.”

Callaway wanted an opportunity to stay in the long run, Davies said, but Kenney made it clear it was a non-starter.

Campaign funding

As it turns out, it is not against the election law to run a fake campaign, but to fund it with irregular donations is, and OEC investigators wanted to know where the money came from and who knew about it.

The OEC has since claimed that their investigation revealed that the bulk of Callaway’s campaign funding, $ 60,000, came from a last-minute influx of corporate cash. Corporate donations are prohibited under Alberta’s election laws. The money was allegedly brought into the campaign through so-called “straw” donors, who agreed to put their names on donations they had never given.

But that night, when the plan was hatched, money was not a concern, according to Mann and Davies.

“You do not have to worry about it. It will be handled, we will raise money,” Davies investigators said was the collective answer to questions about funding Callaway’s campaign.

Jason Kenney speaks to the media at his first rally as leader of the United Conservative Party in Red Deer, Alta., In May 2018. (Jeff McIntosh / Canadian Press)

In a separate interview with the OEC, Mann confirmed this report and drew a straight line to Kenney.

“I said, ‘Jason, if you want all this to happen, where do the funds come from?’ And I was told directly by Jason that there will be money. ”

He would later tell investigators that he could not remember who said it, only that it was said.

These accounts stand in stark contrast to what Kenney would argue about his involvement. He has admitted to being present at the July 2017 meeting, but only to request Callaway’s “approval”. What about money?

“I had absolutely no knowledge of how they funded their campaign,” he told reporters about Callaway’s camp on March 18, 2019.

Bratt said the interviews blew a hole in that claim.

“It did not seem plausible, but now you’ve got two people who are independent of each other saying that Kenney either said money is not the issue or that he was in the room when money was discussed.

A spokesman for Kenney told CBC News in an email that they were not aware of the court documents and previous public statements about the case.

The gift

Kenney was certainly grateful to Callaway. In October 2017, shortly after he dropped out of the race and supported Kenney, according to the interviews, a Thanksgiving party was held at Callaway’s house.

Davies and Mann said Kenney presented the dark-horse candidate with a bottle of “Alberta Dark Horse” whiskey. The metaphor of the heavy-in-the-cheek gift was not lost on any of the experienced political players who celebrated that night.

The bottle of Dark Horse whiskey Jason Kenney gave to Jeff Callaway in 2017 at a Thanksgiving party for the kamikaze candidate. (Submitted)

It all might have ended on the high note if an anonymous whistleblower had not sent a complaint to the Electoral Commissioner’s office, which investigated the matter.

Since then, as the result of the largest election survey ever in Alberta, more than $ 200,000 in fines have been levied against Callaway, campaign staff and “straw” donors. Many of the fines are subject to judicial review.

Evidence gathered through this investigation and a further criminal complaint spawned an RCMP investigation into the funding of the kamikaze campaign and alleged voter identity theft during the same leadership race.

The RCMP statement says that three years later, its investigation into “voter irregularities” in the UCP leadership race is still active.

“This is a very large and complex study that has involved many years of work and several research paths,” the statement said.

The Prime Minister’s Office has not responded to several emails from CBC News asking if Jason Kenney has been questioned by the RCMP or Elections Alberta, or if one of them has requested an interview.

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