Thousands of Albertans packed the Legislature Grounds to watch Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP cabinet be sworn-in.

10 ways to Renew Democracy in Alberta

The first law created by Alberta’s New Democratic Party government’s after its election win in 2015 was Bill 1: An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta, which banned corporate and union donations to provincial political parties.

Following the passage of this law, the Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee was tasked with reviewing the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, the Conflicts of Interest Act, and the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act.

Christina Gray Edmonton Mill Woods MLA

Christina Gray

The MLA committee is chaired by Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray, who was recently appointed as Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal, and includes NDP, Wildrose, Progressive Conservative, Liberal and Alberta Party MLAs.

There has not been a comprehensive review of the Election Act in 35 years. Changes to the Act should recognize the current realities and advances in technology while ensuring the election process in Alberta is fair, transparent, accountable and efficient.

Ian Urquhart shared some of his recommendations to the committee in a recent newspaper opinion-editorial. I have already written about how the Alberta government can reform how electoral boundaries are drawn, and without diving into the complex topic of electoral reform (which is currently being dealt with at the federal level), here are ten ideas that I believe could help improve the democratic process in Alberta:

  1. Introduce Mandatory Voting as part of an intensive civics education campaign for Albertans. Voter turnout in provincial elections is abysmally low and has only surged higher than 60 percent twice in the past forty years (in the 1982 and 1993 elections). Like filing your taxes or graduating high school, voting is a civic responsibility in which all citizens should be encouraged, and required, to participate.
  2. Include a None of the Above option on the ballot in provincial elections. This would allow voters to express valid feelings of displeasure with the candidates listed on the ballot through a None of the Above option. If None of the Above receives the most votes, then a by-election will be held with a new group of candidates.
  3. Lower the maximum annual amount that individuals can donate to provincial political parties. The current maximum annual donation limits in Alberta is $30,000 during election periods and $15,000 outside of election periods. The current maximum annual donation for federal political parties in Canada is $1,525.
  4. Implement maximum limits to how much candidates, political parties and third-party groups can spend during the election period, as already exist for candidates in federal elections.
  5. If we are going to have fixed elections for general elections in Alberta, then let’s actually have a fixed election day. It is time to eliminate the open-ended March 1 to May 31 fixed election period, which was passed by the Progressive Conservative government in 2011 and is strangely unique to Alberta. All other provinces with the exception of Nova Scotia have an actual fixed election day.
  6. If we are going to have fixed election days for general elections, we should have fixed election days for by-elections in order to determine when a by-election will be called to fill vacancies in the Legislative Assembly. Current rules only say that a by-election will be called within six months of a vacancy.
  7. Hold Election Day on a weekend and extend voting hours over Saturday and Sunday to allow for more access to the voting stations. Advance voting is currently held over a four day period, so there is no reason why the Election Day cannot be extended over two days. Moving the Election Day to the weekend will make voting easier for citizens who are unable to cast their ballots on a single weekday.
  8. Introduce automated voting tabulators like those used in the 2014 by-elections and by municipalities like the City of Edmonton since the mid-1990s. This would allow for the ballots to be counted in a more efficient and timely manner.
  9. Ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections by amending the Local Authorities Elections Act. Motions supporting this idea have been endorsed by Edmonton City Council, Edmonton Public School Board and Fort Saskatchewan City Council.
  10. Give Elections Alberta the authority and resources to investigate violations of the Local Authorities Elections Act. Some municipalities are currently unwilling or do not have the resources to investigate violations of this law.

The committee is accepting written recommendations until February 26, 2016, which can be emailed to EthicsandAccountability.Committee@assembly.ab.ca.

10 thoughts on “10 ways to Renew Democracy in Alberta

  1. nick chamchuk

    Wow. It sounds like ms. gray was reading my facebook posts, as EVERYTHING I complained about was addressed, and more. They should throw in something like having a voting card mailed to them so there isn’t as much ALLEGED voter fraud as in Ward 12 By-Election, Oh well, at least thibert. Didn’t win!

    Reply
  2. Alfredo Louro

    I disagree with number 2. The purpose of an election is to appoint our representatives, not to “express feelings of displeasure”, or make any other kind of personal political statement.

    Reply
    1. Dan

      I agree with your stmt that elections are to appoint representatives; however I also think this suggestion balances the reality of a very shallow pool of candidates – giving the voters the opportunity to in effect say to ALL the candidates: “you did a piss poor job of winning my vote…I’m not going to vote for the party, I’m voting for a local rep…and you all failed”.

      I’m only agreeing with this suggestion because it includes the caveat that none of the current candidates can run again in the required by-election.

      As with all change, this would see a flurry of “none of the above” by elections the first election it would be valid, however, after a couple of by elections the candidates would wise-up to the fact that they need to be less divisive and woo the voters to themselves not to their party.

      I’d add to it that there be a limit to only one “none of the above by elections. That if a riding votes “none of the above” a second time, they are without an MLA until the next general election.

      Reply
  3. Maria

    I agree with all 10 points. However, mandatory voting can only work if there is an option for electronic voting – and not just for individuals who cannot get to the poll – and there needs to be a penalty for not voting.

    Reply
  4. Joel French

    Great post, Dave. I agree with most of those ideas (not sure on mandatory voting or the “None of the Above” idea). I wanted to note that the federal maximum for contributions is $1,525 at the moment: http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=pol&document=index&dir=lim&lang=e

    Also, in case you haven’t seen it, Public Interest Alberta’s Democracy Task Force just made a submission to the committee, and we’ve shared it here: http://pialberta.org/content/strengthening-our-democracy-submisison

    Lastly, in case you haven’t submitted your ideas to the Committee yet, they’re taking submissions until Friday: http://www.assembly.ab.ca/committees/ethicsandaccountability/ELLE/ELLE.html

    Cheers!

    Reply
  5. TC

    I absolutely love the mandatory voting rule. A democracy only works when all citizens participate. At the same time, simply counting spoiled ballot would work instead of having a “none of the above” option, ie: if the amount of spoiled ballots is greater than the candidates, a new election needs to be held in the riding.

    I also hate fixed elections in parliamentary systems. Duane Bratt discussed the legal side of it in an Apr 2015 article in the Globe and Mail (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/alberta-election-may-be-unethical-but-its-not-illegal/article23886595/). My issue about it is rather political: it unnecessarily prolongs election campaigns (such as the US Presidential Election). More importantly, if a government prematurely triggers an election without a good reason, most voters are intelligent enough to smell the ulterior motives. The 1990 Ontario general election and the 2015 Alberta general election provide good history lessons of that.

    Reply
  6. Jerrymacgp

    Interesting suggestions. I’m surprised you didn’t discuss proportional representation. Yes it was a small factor in the federal election, but in Canada, the province’s get to set their own electoral rules independently of the feds, so there is no reason not to discuss it here. FPTP is optimally designed only for a strict two-party system, such as we saw in Canada in the 19th and early 20th century; once viable third, fourth and more parties get into the mix, it’s representativeness breaks down.

    As for fixed election dates, I feel they are an American idea that doesn’t belong here. The US sees an endless campaign, especially with their two-year terms in the House of Prepresentatives and the state assemblies. With the current fashion of trying to shoehorn fixed election dates into the Westminster system in Canada, we’re also starting to see endless campaigning develop here as well, to the detriment of our governance. I’d like to see us get back to the days when a new government got to govern for a while before it had to start thinking about the next election. Look at our current government: less than a year into their mandate, and the torches and pitchforks are already out for them.

    On the other hand, many see majority governments as a sort of 4-year elected dictatorship, where individual MLAs and MPs have little sway over how a government operates. If we had proportional representation, we might see fewer majority governments, which would strengthen the role of MLAs in holding governments to account. Changing the legislative committee structure might also help.

    Reply

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