For many decades, Alberta’s old Progressive Conservative government benefited greatly from large corporate donors which would help keep the governing party’s campaign war-chest flush with cash. It was well-known in Alberta political circles that the PC Party had the goal of always having enough money in their bank account to run two back-to-back election campaigns at any time. And usually they did.
The first law passed by Alberta’s New Democratic Party government after its election in May 2015 banned of corporate and union donations. Limiting contributions to individual donors was the first move in what is expected to be an overhaul of Alberta’s outdated elections laws. It was a good place to start, but there is much more work to be done.
The all-party MLA Special Select Ethics and Accountability Committee was created last year in order to review the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, the Conflicts of Interest Act, and the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act. The committee will make recommendations to the government for changes to the four laws and any changes introduced by the government will be debated in the Legislative Assembly.
Here are three changes that have been debated by the committee recently:
Reimbursements: A motion introduced by Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Rod Loyola on August 10, 2016 recommended “that the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act be amended to provide for a rebate of 50 per cent of registered parties’ and registered candidates’ campaign expenditures provided that campaigns receive at least 10 per cent of the vote cast and file all required financial returns.” Similar subsidies exist in federal elections and in many other provinces.
I understand the arguments in favour of this policy, but unfortunately the NDP MLAs are not going into great lengths to explain them. I do not believe these types reimbursements actually “level the playing field,” as Mr. Loyola argued when he proposed the motion. These types of reimbursements reward candidates and parties that spend the most money, even if they lose the election. A very generous tax credit system already exists for individuals who donate to candidates and political parties, and in my opinion that should be sufficient.
If the MLAs truly want to level the playing field through a financial reimbursement program, they should study the funding system that existed federally between 2004 and 2015, which tied a financial reimbursement to political parties to the number of votes they earned in an election.
Spending Limits: Last week, I wrote about the committee’s recommendation to create campaign spending limits and I was pleased to see Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Sucha have his original motion amended to raise to initial proposed limits (which I believed were too low). The new proposal would increase the limits per campaign to $70,000 for local campaigns and an $80,000 limit for four northern constituencies. Party province-wide campaign would be limited to spending $0.80 per eligible voter, which is similar to the limit that exists in Ontario.
I do believe it is arbitrary to simply name four constituencies as exemptions, as the province’s electoral boundaries will be redrawn before the next election and these four constituency may not exist in their current form when the next election is called. It might make more sense to create a formula based on population and geography to determine whether special exceptions are required for spending limits in northern and remote rural constituencies.
Donation Limits: Currently, any individual can donate a maximum of $15,000 annually to a political party outside of election periods and $30,000 to a political party during election periods. A motion introduced by Edmonton-Decore MLA Chris Nielsen and amended by Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr would lower financial contribution limits to $4,000 during election periods and $2,300 outside election periods.
The committee continues to meet this week, so I am anticipating there will be more to write about in the days to come.