NDP MLA Graham Sucha (left) with MLAs Joe Ceci, Shannon Phillips and Kathleen Ganley.

Spending limits for election candidates? Yes, Please.

Calgary-Shaw NDP MLA Graham Sucha is proposing there be a limit to how much money provincial candidates and parties can spend on election campaigns.

At a recent meeting of the Special Select Ethics and Accountability Committee, Mr. Sucha proposed local candidate campaign spending be limited to $40,000 for most constituencies and $50,000 for larger northern constituencies and provincial campaigns limited to $1.6 million per party. There are currently no spending limits in Alberta and our province is currently the only province in Canada without spending limits.

Alberta voters swept out cash-flush Progressive Conservative candidates in favour of the cash-strapped New Democrats in 2015, but it has generally been the case in Alberta elections that the richest campaigns win on election day. The absence of spending limits has allowed PC candidates to wildly outspend their opposition during that party’s 44 years as government from 1971 to 2015.

In the 2015 election, a handful of PC candidates spent incredibly large sums of money on local campaigns – Edmonton-Whitemud candidate Stephen Mandel‘s campaign spent $132,991 and ended the campaign with a $135,974 surplus. Lowering the spending limits would prevent parties from using these large funds held in trust following the last election in that constituency in the next election (I would expect they would be transferred to other targeted constituencies).

Federal candidates in Alberta are limited to spending between $200,000 and $270,000 depending on the riding they are running for election in. As provincial constituencies in Alberta are considerably smaller than federal ridings, it is expected that any limits would be lower.

Back in February I proposed ten ways that the election process in Alberta could be improved, and spending limits was my third recommendation. While I do believe the spending limits Mr. Sucha has proposed may be too low, especially for the provincial parties, I do believe he is on the right track. There should be spending limits in Alberta elections.


The committee also debated a motion introduced by Edmonton-Decore NDP MLA Chris Nielsen and amended by Bonnyville-Cold Lake Wildrose MLA Scott Cyr that would lower financial contribution limits to $4,000 during election periods and $2,300 outside election periods. Albertans can currently donate $30,000 to political parties during election and by-election periods and $15,000 outside election and by-election periods.

11 thoughts on “Spending limits for election candidates? Yes, Please.

  1. Colin

    And by the time the next election roles around the Wild Wild West of election laws will be tamed. No more big money buying elections thanks to Notley. Thanks Notley.

    Reply
  2. Brian

    Spending limits are contrary to the charter and our democracy. Let sleeping dogs lie. We already took a major step back in stopping corporate and union donations – let’s not take another step back.

    Reply
    1. Dave Cournoyer Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Brian. I am not sure how spending limits would be contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Spending limits currently exist for election candidates in every other province and for federal elections.

      Reply
      1. Dave Cournoyer Post author

        Banning corporate and union donations put Alberta in line with federal rules, which only allow for individual donations (and the limits are much lower than current provincial donation limits in Alberta).

        Reply
        1. Truth

          Talk about moving us back to the dark ages. Any corporation or union should be allowed to contribute to any campaign they want, subject to the contribution limits. It’s the Canadian way.

          Reply
      2. jay

        I think Brian is applying the right-wing shibboleth that allowing wealthy entities to buy elections is a free-speech issue.

        Reply
  3. Joel French

    It’s worth noting the federal riding spending limits you mention were only that high for the 2015 election because of the ultra-long writ period orchestrated by the Harper Conservatives. In a normal 5-week federal campaign the limits are usually closer to $90,000 per candidate at the riding level.

    Reply
  4. David

    Given that provincial constituencies are much smaller than federal ones (generally less than half the size), taking half of the $90,000 gets you right to the range proposed. I am not sure if this is how the $40,000 to $50,000 range mentioned above came about, but the math is not that hard.

    Personally, I would be a bit generous and go with $50,000, as some constituencies are geographically larger and involve more travel. I think if you can’t run a decent campaign for that amount, you probably shouldn’t be running. The PC’s often spent a lot more, just because they had the money and they set no limits , but I am sure some of that spending was wasteful and they were just trying to obliterate or financially ruin the opposition.

    Reply
  5. David Foster

    Actually, BC has no spending limits in provincial or municipal elections. Individuals or organizations can donate as much as they want in BC.

    There is a quasi-constitutional argument against limiting how individuals can choose to allocate their own personal funds. It’s a bit odd that political parties would be the only organization to which you cannot donate as much as you want. Whether this engages a freedom of expression or liberty interest is a complicated question, like most Charter issues. Current Supreme Court of Canada justice, Russell Brown, a former University of Alberta law professor thought that it did. Furthermore, donation and spending limits can be circumvented by third party advertising campaigns.

    Reply
    1. Dave Cournoyer Post author

      Elections BC does list spending limits in their guide for financial agents: http://www.elections.bc.ca/docs/guidebooks/455-Guide-For-Financial-Agents.pdf

      “Political party election expenses limits [section 198]
      For a general election the election expenses limit for a registered political party is $4.4 million during the campaign period (the period from when the writ is issued up to the close of voting on General Voting Day).
      For a by-election, the total value of election expenses incurred by a registered political party during the campaign period must not exceed $70,000.
      If a campaign period in an electoral district is extended due to the death of a candidate, the expenses limit with respect to the electoral district in question is increased by $70,000.
      There are serious consequences for exceeding these limits.”

      “Candidate election expenses limits [section 199]
      For a general election or a by-election the election expenses limits for a candidate is $70,000 for the campaign period.
      If a campaign period in an electoral district is extended due to the death of a candidate, the expenses limit is:
      „ $70,000 for a candidate who is nominated after the date new election proceedings are started, and
      „ $140,000 for a candidate who was nominated before the new election proceedings were started
      There are serious consequences for exceeding these limits.”

      Reply

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