Published:July 13, 2021
Even though Kevin J. Johnston is on probation for harassing an AHS inspector, the vocal opponent of COVID-19 health restrictions is probably free to pursue his mayoral aspirations.
His rivals in Calgary’s mayoralty race note that unless he owes the city back taxes, has violated elections laws or is a city employee not on a leave of absence, he can run for the top civic post.
That’s not sitting well with other mayoralty candidates, who say Johnston’s guilty plea to harassing the AHS staffer and for an incident at The Core shopping centre should sideline him.
Given those disqualifications are part of Alberta’s Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA), it’s up to the province to change that, said Coun. Jyoti Gondek.
“When you have somebody who’s threatened health-care workers and are thrown behind bars, what are you doing as a ministry?” she said, referring to the Department of Municipal Affairs.
“It’s their legislation, they can certainly look into ways of strengthening it.”
After spending 48 days in jail, Johnston on Monday was given nine months’ probation after pleading guilty to criminal charges related to the harassment.
Last spring, he said as mayor he would ensure the AHS inspector and her colleagues would be fired and threatened to visit their homes, armed.
Johnston, 49, is also facing potential sanctions, including possibly more jail time, after being found guilty of contempt of court for repeatedly ignoring court orders that he comply with public health measures designed to combat the spread of COVID-19.
He is scheduled to face a hearing later this month.
He’s also facing an assault charge stemming from an incident last March in Dawson Creek, B.C., and charges originating from the Drumheller area.
Gondek said she’s been trying to get answers from Municipal Affairs on the issue of Johnston’s candidacy for some time, to no avail.
In the meantime, Gondek said she’s hoping he’s not invited to any mayoralty forums or debates, which would “be a slap in the face to health-care workers.”
And while she called for a toughening of the LAEA, she acknowledged doing so could raise questions about the required threshold for disqualification.
“That could be dangerous,” said Gondek.
Those freshly convicted should probably be disqualified from running for office at least initially, said mayoral hopeful Jan Damery.
“My gut reaction is there should be a cooling-off period, but I wouldn’t want that (disqualification) to be in perpetuity — that they could eventually apply for a pardon,” said Damery.
“I believe in development, in restorative justice.”
She said such a change should be made to the LAEA, and that the eligibility bar for accessing the mayoral ballot — 100 signatures and $500 — is too low.
“Candidates like Johnston can be very grandstanding and distracting at such a critical time of transition in our city,” said Damery.
But at the same time, that requirement shouldn’t be too high or elitist, she said.
More important is improving the relationship between the province and cities in a much wider sense by amending the Municipal Government Act, she said.
“Lots of changes need to be made,” she said.
A spokesperson for Alberta Municipal Affairs said the government is reluctant to dictate who can run for office and the ultimate choice in the ballot booth is best left to voters.
Even so, she said the LAEA is reviewed and updated regularly, the last time being late in 2020.
Earlier this year, there were concerns Johnston would acquire a list of voters traditionally made accessible to candidates and use it maliciously.
But after Johnston vowed to divulge information on AHS employees included on that list, Elections Calgary decided it wouldn’t be released ahead of the October municipal election.