Mudslinging drowns out any talk of policies
It didn’t take long for Alberta’s crook-of-the-day contest to bounce back on Premier Rachel Notley. On Tuesday, the UCP accused her of making illegal contributions to the Alberta NDP when she lived in British Columbia. The UCP proof, such as it is, was a quote from a speech made last fall by Notley’s husband, Lou Arab. “Much to my annoyance,” he said, “Rachel insisted that we continue to make generous monthly contributions to the Alberta NDP.” The UCP cast this as original sin. Notley responded Tuesday. “My understanding is that if one had a residence — not was a resident, but had a residence — or earned money in the province of Alberta, then it was actually allowed. “And both of those things were true even while we were living in B.C. So fundamentally the difference is that our contribution — my husband’s and mine — was legal, whereas the allegation — if there was a contribution by Mr. Kenney — is not legal.” Notley tossed the mud ball back to UCP Leader Jason Kenney, who made a contribution to the Ontario PCs in 2016. Elections Ontario records a $399 entry from “contributor” Jason Kenney. Kenney says it was not a donation but a registration fee for a party convention. Most electoral systems, though, see such fees as contributions. That payment is supposed to be illegal — if he didn’t live there. Those who are already fed up with pre-campaign mudslinging may sense an irony here. Kenney is being blasted for claiming his primary residence was in Calgary — and hence eligible for a benefit — when he was mostly resident in Ottawa. And yet, he’s also thumped for donating in Ontario, the very province where he’s charged with being resident all those years. There’s a fascinating twist to the Kenney residency uproar that I haven’t seen mentioned in all the reams of coverage. Kenney’s Calgary address, where he stayed with his mother, was designated as his primary home. His condo in Ottawa was regarded as secondary. What if he’d done it the other way around? Well, there wouldn’t have been a subsidy for the Calgary residence because of the following House of Commons rule: “Members may not claim any rent when their secondary residence is rented from a member of their immediate family or from an employee of any Member, House Officer or Research Office.” If that Calgary residence is designated as primary, though, no problem. Also, the guidelines say “the primary residence is occupied by the Member more often than the other residence.” Kenney’s Calgary choice clearly didn’t clear that hurdle. He acknowledges that he lived in Ottawa about 140 days a year and spent most of the rest on airplanes or in hotels. But the requirement to spend most time here has always been absurdly unrealistic for any federal minister from Alberta. It’s unlikely that more than a few — the lazy ones — have complied since, oh, 1905. Kenney’s choice does seem to pass other major House of Commons tests. “The primary residence is the one declared on the Member’s income tax return, and is located in the province where the Member votes and pays income taxes,” the rules say. The residence also has to be where the member has healthcare coverage, a driver’s licence and vehicle registration. Kenney insists he met all these criteria, and the House of Commons approved his arrangements. He says he’d welcome a review by the Commons Board of Internal Economy. There’s another big factor that has nothing to do with the formal rules. Any Alberta MP who formally declares Ottawa as home is asking for a short career. It does not go well for a politician who seems to prefer living there. Personally, I care less about where Kenney’s residence was than what his policies are. We’re not hearing much of that through all the noisy charges and counter-charges.
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