Levelling the playing field in Alberta Elections

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 Limiting contributions to individual donors was the first move in what is expected to be an overhaul of Alberta’s outdated elections laws.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:

Rod Loyola Edmonton Ellerslie NDP

Rod Loyola

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.

Graham Sucha MLA

Graham Sucha

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.

Chris Nielsen MLA

Chris Nielsen

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.

4 thoughts on “Levelling the playing field in Alberta Elections

  1. Julie Ali

    In my opinion, I see no reason for citizens to pay for the campaigns of politicians via the public purse. Surely they can obtain funds from their supporters? If candidates cannot get money from their supporters then maybe they should run simpler campaigns without the expensive media accoutrements. They could do what the Liberal candidate in the last federal election did in Riverbend– he went door to door and actually talked to voters. In contrast, I did not meet with the Conservative candidate or the NDP candidate for my area.

    Spending limits are generous enough and should not be increased. Surely there is an ability to communicate with voters via websites which are fairly inexpensive and direct communication which costs nothing but leg work?

    Donation limits are too high and need to be limited further at both the provincial and municipal levels. In my opinion the $5,000 donation limit at the municipal level is far too rich.

    http://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/municipal_elections/campaign-finances-faq.aspx

    Any person, corporation, employee organization or union may donate up to $5,000 to your campaign per calendar year during the campaign period, but cannot make those contributions retroactively. You may contribute $10,000 to your own campaign during the entire campaign period.

    Reply
    1. Jerrymacgp

      Ms Ali, there are currently no spending limits at all in Alberta provincial elections. An Albertan Donald Trump could spend as much as he or she wants to get elected, without running afoul of current election law. This proposal, which is not yet even at the stage of being a Bill before the Assembly, is to create such spending limits.

      As for civic elections and the Local Authorities Elections Act, remember that unlike for federal and provincial elections, there is no tax deduction available for contributions to municipal or school board election candidates, so everything to do with such contributions must be considered with that fact in mind.

      Reply
      1. Julie Ali

        While there are no spending limits if the political party has the support of their base, I feel they can spend whatever wasteful amount they want. Why should we interfere with this matter? We should simply reduce the amounts their donors are able to give to them.

        I believe this move by the NDP folks is strategic and designed not to improve democracy but further game it. In other words, the NDP are using their government position to design legislation that benefits them. If they do the changes they hamper the ability of the better funded opposition parties from partying in terms of advertisements. Meanwhile we have the NDP allowing their base to do the labour and third party advertisements. Pretty smart. This is typical political party behaviour but dressing it up as levelling the playing field is disingenuous. It is all about increasing the odds of getting rehired (second term in office).

        In my opinion, instead of thinking of ways to get a second term that won’t happen, the NDP folks that we voted for (yes, I voted for them) should concentrate on the issues that their constituents are speaking about publicly such as the problems in the continuing care sector. The NDP have failed to do anything in the continuing care sector and expect families to put up with these failures.

        Now I hope that Dave Cournoyer isn’t going to do what Mr. Climenhaga is doing on the Alberta Politics site and ban my comments. This is yet another problem in the discussions on blogs. The NDP favouring sites like Alberta Politics or Greenpeace are banning citizens from presenting problems on their blogs or disagreeing with NDP positions. This isn’t free speech. And this isn’t democracy. But it is certainly a continuation of the PC error practices of information sequestration, silencing and banning of citizens when problems are raised such as just how much fresh water is being used for fracking in Alberta?

        Reply
  2. Mr. Smith

    Just speculating.

    But is a reason the NDP is proposing a 10% vote total to limit the other left wing parties from growing, thus reducing the risk of left wing vote splitting.

    This could also backfire for the NDP, if their approval ratings continue to slip, the leap manifesto gets adopted, and/or Notley leaves the Alberta NDP. We could see another left wing party step up, such as the liberals or Alberta Party and see the NDP garner less than 10% of the vote in future elections (similar to 2008 and 2012) and not even qualify for this.

    Reply

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