GAGGED in Alberta! New Progressive (?) Conservative code of conduct directive likened to gag rule

New PC code of conduct directive likened to gag rule by James Wood with files from Chris Varcoe, June 13, 2014, Calgary Herald
The Progressive Conservative party has implemented a new code of conduct and ethics for its officials, but some local party activists worry it amounts to a gag order. The code, passed last month by the party’s board of directors, applies to the Tory board, committee members, MLA nominees and candidates, party staff members and the PC leadership council, which includes the presidents of the 87 Tory constituency associations.

Among its provisions is one spelling out that only the party president and executive director are allowed to speak to the media on behalf of the party. [When oh when will Albertans get their spines back, yell “NO!” and refuse to be controlled, synergized and gagged?]

Tory president Jim McCormick said Friday the clause simply formalizes what has been standard procedure for years, and party officials are still free to speak out as individuals. IIf they’re talking to you, they’re not talking on behalf of the party,” McCormick said in an interview. “They’re not representing the party or its perspective in any way, shape of form.”

But two constituency association presidents, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the provision is viewed by many of their colleagues as putting a chill on local officials talking to the press.

And while McCormick said the code has been in the works for more than a year, they note it only came into place following turmoil within the PC party that led to the resignation of Premier Alison Redford — a period when many Tory officials were being interviewed in the media. “I think the concern was born out of that gong show we just went through, which I get,” said one of the riding presidents. “But I don’t think that’s the way to do it. It’s a step backward, really.”

The member said the code goes against the party’s emphasis on transparency and will push away people from taking on responsibility within PC ranks.

Another president called the document “overarching and overbearing” and said there is a question whether the party can impose a code that applies to local officials, given that constituency associations are separate legal entities from the party.

A clause in the code states accountability to the party “supersedes any actual or apparent conflicting loyalties with other political parties, federal and municipal governments, businesses and membership on other boards and councils … (and) any actual or apparent personal interests of any member.”

McCormick said he sees no problem with the provision and it’s something potential officials should consider before taking on a role with the party. The document, posted on the PC party’s website, also states that breaches of the code will be investigated by the party’s board of directors and could result in censure, with dismissal from the party the “ultimate penalty.”

Redford, who faced controversies over her expenses and management style, appeared before the party’s board of directors in March as they bared their grievances with her leadership just before she resigned.

But McCormick — who confirmed the code applied to sitting MLAs — said it was “speculation” to consider how the code would work in a situation similar to Redford’s. Codes of conduct are common in large organizations, he noted.

The Alberta Liberals and NDP say they have no code of conduct for party officials. The Wildrose Party has a mission and core values statement, but it does not contain provisions relating to speaking to the media or penalties.

The three candidates running to replace Redford as party leader when PC members vote this fall said they’ve heard little about the code of conduct, but don’t want to stifle party members. Former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice said conservatives aren’t shy about weighing in on issues important to them, while Calgary-Hays MLA Ric McIver noted that “I’m not sure any party edict will override people’s right to free speech.” Edmonton MLA Thomas Lukaszuk wondered if the code of conduct “misfocused energy” and said party members shouldn’t be afraid to speak up. “When you are a strong party and you’re well-grounded in policy, you’re well-grounded in community support, you don’t have to worry about that,” he said. [Emphasis added]

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