Thursday the United Conservative majority in the Alberta provincial legislature passed Bill 22, which – among other things – fires the election commissioner, Lorne Gibson, who was investigating the party's 2017 leadership race.
And this is only one of many major stories evolving quickly in Alberta right now: from Premier Jason Kenney creating the Fair Deal Panel which will look at ways that Alberta can assert some level of independence in the federation, to massive budget cuts at post-secondary institutions, and the rollback of farm workplace health and safety legislation.
With such an onslaught of news, it has become nearly impossible to absorb everything.
"This is part of the [United Conservative Party] strategy, which has become quite nakedly obvious over the last couple of weeks," said Calgary-based campaign strategist Zain Velji.
"They have an issue a day or a crisis a day that they introduce into our collective lives and before the media and citizens and analysts are able to fully dissect it and detangle it, and fully understand what's been proposed, they move on to the next story. They move on to the next thing saying, 'It doesn't matter. Time's run out. The clock's run out. You work on our schedule.'"
And it's likely no mistake that Kenney isn't in the country while this particular saga is being rolled out, he added. Kenney has been in Texas this week promoting investment in Alberta's energy sector.
"He probably knew that out of the suite of issues that they've brought up over the course of the last couple of weeks ... this was going to be the most controversial, the easiest to digest, to understand and probably was going to have probably the longest news cycle. And when I say longest news cycle, I mean three days."
Gibson's investigation has already resulted in more than $200,000 in fines leveled against more than a dozen people connected to the UCP leadership campaign, including Jeff Callaway who was a candidate in the race accused of running as a kamikaze candidate meant to sabotage Kenney's principal rival, Brian Jean. Those claims are being disputed in court.
Now the only roadblock to the bill passing into law is its royal assent from Lieutenant-Governor Lois Mitchell. Earlier this week, Notley called on Mitchell to block the bill as what Notley herself called an "extraordinary measure."
Mitchell's office is not responding to media requests on the matter.
In all likelihood the bill will receive royal assent and as that happens the Office of the Election Commissioner vanishes altogether and the election commissioner position is recreated as a staff position under the chief electoral officer at Elections Alberta. But Gibson's contract is terminated.
“No one is firing anybody,” said UCP House Leader Jason Nixon on Tuesday. “All investigations remain under the purview of an independent officer of this legislature — the chief electoral officer.”
UCP MLAs have also pointed out that Gibson could be rehired by the chief electoral officer, but there is certainly no plan to do so.
At a press conference Thursday, Notley said, "Ten hours of debate, that's how long it took this UCP government to dismantle democracy."
The NDP opposition has been throwing all their manpower behind efforts to keep Bill 22 in the public eye. In addition to Notley calling on Mitchell to block the bill, she was also ejected from the legislature on Tuesday after accusing Nixon of misleading the public with the above-mentioned comments.
Notley also wrote a letter to the ethics commissioner seeking their intervention. Thursday morning, before the vote on Bill 22 took place at the legislature, the election commissioner Marguerite Trussler responded saying she could not investigate actions until a vote occurred. However, she outlined that in her opinion those who were being investigated, or who has close associates being investigated, would likely be in breach of the Conflicts of Interest Act.
Of the individuals Notley explicitly named in her letter to the ethics commissioner, and who CBC News has reported have been interviewed by RCMP, three of them voted to pass the bill Thursday, including Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer.
UCP House Leader Nixon said that staff had consulted with the ethics commissioner and that he was confident those who voted were clear of any conflicts.
Strategist Velji points out that the significance of the firing of Gibson has taken over the conversation and other parts of the multi faceted bill aren't even being discussed because there just isn't enough time. The bill also eliminates the Alberta Sport Connection, which among other things provides support for Special Olympics Alberta. The Historical Resources Foundation is also dissolved, which provides funding to museums across the province. The bill even moves public sector pensions into government control.
"They've appointed an associate minister of red tape reduction in the government, which is like adding a ministry to a buzz word. But they've ultimately done that and this has all been under the guise of that," Velji said. "All of the UCP defense on this has been through that very narrow lane, which is 'this saves us money and it's about red tape reduction, making it better for Albertans.'"
"Anything that has any cost saving is justified in their eyes."
The UCP have said that the impetus for the changes to Gibson's former office is that the move will save the government $1 million over five years.