Thursday 19 February 2009

A Sad Day for Democracy in Alberta

February 19, 2009
For Immediate Release

The firing of Chief Electoral Officer Lorne Gibson shows that the Stelmach government continues to practice politics as usual, rather than deal openly and honestly with the democratic deficit in this Province.

"Mr. Gibson was a dedicated professional hired by the PC's to take on a tough task. When he did his job and made recommendations to improve democracy and fairness that the PC's didn't like, they fired him" says Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman. "Further, they blame Mr. Gibson for their own failings such as neglecting to implement electoral reform that they themselves had promised."

Hinman says the move showcases the need for real electoral reform in Alberta, reforms that can make the government more accountable while putting more responsibility into the hands of citizens where it belongs.

"Mr. Gibson worked very hard and put a lot of time and thought into his electoral reform recommendations to the government, including 100 made in 2006, none of which the PC government acted upon," Hinman says, "And though it paid lip service to his advice, not only has the government not taken any action, it's now trying to ensure its interference in the democratic process can continue. For example, the PC Party should not be selecting Returning Officers nor should it be up to the government to determine if potential electoral fraud should be prosecuted. That should be in the hands of the Chief Electoral Officer."

The Wildrose Alliance supports Mr. Gibson's call for appointing non-partisan returning officers, instead of having to use representatives of the Conservative party. While the Conservatives may have competent and fair-minded people among their ranks, it is just plain wrong to rely on partisans to ensure free and fair elections.

Once again, with this issue, the Stelmach government does not inspire confidence in its competence or credibility. "This government assured Albertans, including Mr. Gibson, that it was not going to have an early election – and then it sprang one on them at short notice," points out Mr. Hinman.

The Chief Electoral Office was unable to run a proper election because Stelmach never gave them proper notice, so they didn't have the lead time to perform such basic but vital tasks as performing an enumeration or training Returning Officers. They never had time to recruit Returning Officers either due to the government's own lack of response to Mr. Gibson's requests. The PC's then blamed Mr. Gibson for not notifying the Government for their lack of response to his requests – a basis for his firing. "This is an indication that the Stelmach government either didn't want a free and fair election or that it simply continues to flail about incompetently."

In order to bring reform to the democratic system and increase voter participation, the Wildrose Alliance agrees with Mr. Gibson's calls for fixed election dates, putting the power to appoint Returning Officers in his hands, and implementing methods to make voting more convenient and efficient.

"A democratic government must work for the people, not the other way around," reminds Hinman. "Democratic Reform is required in the Province to increase voter participation and transparency. The Stelmach government refuses to act on their own hand-picked expert's advice after blocking electoral reform time and time again. The Wildrose Alliance government believes it is time for change and asks Albertans to consider the plight of democracy and fairness in Alberta next Election."

Paul Hinman
Wildrose Alliance leader
Phone: 403 393-2003

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