Tag Archives: Banning Corporate and Union Donations

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.

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

What new laws did Alberta’s NDP Government pass in 2015?

The fall session of the Alberta Legislature ended last week and MLAs will now spend the next few weeks working in their constituencies until the Assembly returns in early 2016. The Assembly passed nine pieces of legislation introduced by Alberta’s New Democratic Party government in its first full session of the Legislature since it formed government.

The first four bills introduced by the government reflected key promises made by Rachel Notley‘s NDP during the 2015 election. One private members bill, introduced by Independent Calgary-Bow MLA Deborah Drever, was passed by the Assembly (a rare feat for opposition MLAs).

Here is a quick look at the ten bills that were passed by MLAs since the NDP formed government in 2015:

Kathleen Ganley NDP Calgary Buffalo

Kathleen Ganley

Bill 1: An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta

Introduced by Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, Bill 1 banned corporate and union donations to provincial political parties in Alberta. The bill received royal assent on June 29, 2015, but was made retroactive on June 15, 2015. This new law was a major blow to the Progressive Conservative Party, which had become accustomed to relying heavily on corporate donations to fund their campaigns and operations. The ban was not extended to municipal elections.

Bill 2: An Act to Restore Fairness to Public Revenue

Introduced by Finance Minister Joe Ceci, Bill 2 eliminated Alberta’s 10 percent flat tax and introduced a progressive taxation system with five rates of personal income tax up to 15 percent for income above $300,000. Bill 2 also increased Alberta’s corporate tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent, bringing our province in line with Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Despite the increase, tax rates in Alberta still remain lower than what existed during much of the time Ralph Klein served as Premier.

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

Bill 3: Appropriation (Interim Supply) Act, 2015

Introduced by Mr. Ceci, Bill 3 reversed funding cuts made to education, health care, and human services by the PC government before the May 5, 2015 election.

Bill 4: An Act to Implement Various Tax Measures and to Enact the Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act

Introduced by Mr. Ceci, Bill 4 repealed and replaced the Fiscal Management Act and introduced requirements in a Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act, which include presenting government finances in a three-year fiscal plan and the establishment of a new debt cap based on a debt-to-GDP ratio of 15 percent.

Bill 5: Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act 

Introduced by Ms. Ganley, Bill 5 expanded the “sunshine list” to include employees of public agencies, boards, commissions, post-secondary institutions and health service entities whose earnings are more than $125,000 annually. This is a continuation of work already done by the previous PC government and has been criticized by supporters of the NDP as “bad policy.”

Lori Sigurdson NDP

Lori Sigurdson

Bill 6: Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act

Introduced by Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson, Bill 6 introduced occupational health and safety and mandatory Workers’ Compensation Board coverage for employees of farming operations. Alberta is currently the only province in Canada without OH&S laws and employment standards coverage for farm and ranch workers. Amid protests by farmers and ranchers, the government introduced amendments to exempt farm and ranch owners and their families from the bill. This was undoubtably the most controversial legislation passed by the NDP government in 2015.

Bill 7: Alberta Human Rights Amendment Act, 2015

Introduced by Ms. Ganley, Bill 7 amended the Alberta Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression as expressly prohibited grounds of discrimination.

David Eggen

David Eggen

Bill 8: Public Education Collective Bargaining Act

Introduced by Education Minister David Eggen, Bill 8 restructures collective bargaining between teachers, school boards and the government. The bill initially would have had the government be the sole party negotiating with the Alberta Teachers’ Association on matters that should be bargained centrally versus locally but an amendment to the bill allowed a new employer bargaining association to negotiate with the ATA to decide.

Bill 9: Appropriation Act, 2015

Introduced by Mr. Ceci, Bill 9 provides budget funding authority to the Government of Alberta and the Legislative Assembly for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Deborah Drever MLA Calgary Bow

Deborah Drever

Bill 204: Residential Tenancies (Safer Spaces for Victims of Domestic Violence) Amendment Act, 2015

Introduced by Ms. Drever, Bill 204 amended the Residential Tenancies Act to allow victims of domestic violence to end their housing leases early and without penalty in order to leave unsafe home environments. Lethbridge-East MLA Maria Fitzpatrick bravely stood in the legislature to share a powerful story about her personal experiences with domestic violence.

Pressure builds for Alberta to ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections

On June 22, 2015, Alberta’s new NDP Government passed Bill 1: An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta, imposing a retroactive ban on corporate and union donations to provincial political parties starting on June 15.

Don Iveson Edmonton Mayor Election

Don Iveson

Since that law passed, pressure has been building for the provincial government to extend that ban to municipal elections. The level of spending by some candidates in the last municipal election was described as “insane” by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, after some Calgary city council candidates raised more than $270,000 largely through corporate donations.

During the debate about the provincial law, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson called for the ban to be extended to municipal elections. Last week, Edmonton City Council voted in favour of a motion introduced by Councillor Andrew Knack to ask the provincial government to ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections.

Edmonton Public School Board trustees endorsed a similar motion introduced by trustee Michael Janz on June 23, 2015.

Andrew Knack Edmonton Ward 1

Andrew Knack

A special select Ethics and Accountability Committee chaired by Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray is set 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.

While the committee is not specifically reviewing the Local Authorities Elections Act, the law that governs municipal elections, the MLAs on that committee should be encouraged to ask Municipal Affairs Minister Deron Bilous to extend the changes municipal elections before the 2017 municipal elections.

Christine Gray MLA Edmonton Mill Woods

Christina Gray

Any move to ban on corporate and union donations in municipal elections must also include resources to enforce the law, which has been lacking under the current legislation. Some municipalities have even refused to enforce the existing legislation.

Here is the motion approved by Edmonton City Council:

That the Mayor write a letter and/or advocate to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Premier:

1. Requesting that the city be given be the ability to independently establish campaign finance and disclosure rules in advance of the 2017 Municipal Election, either via the City Charter or other means.

2. Notwithstanding desiring the autonomy for municipalities to set the other campaign finance and disclosure rules, Edmonton calls for amendments to the Local Authorities Elections Act to eliminate corporate and union donations for all local election candidates.

3. Requesting that should the legislature move to limit corporate and union contributions for all local elections, that the province level the playing field by introducing tax credit eligibility for local election donations.

4. That restrictions on contributions and related disclosure requirements be the same for third party advocacy groups/individuals as they are for municipal candidates.

First NDP Throne Speech on message. McIver Tories totally tone deaf in opposition.

The NDP throne speech was predictable and on message

Joe Ceci Calgary NDP

Joe Ceci

The first Speech from the Throne of Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley‘s administration included many of the key promises made during the recent provincial election.

The 604,515 Albertans who voted NDP should be pleased that the new government is following through with its promises to end corporate and union donations, increase corporate taxes from 10% to 12%, create a more progressive income tax system, and temporarily restore funding to health care, education and human services that was cut by the previous Progressive Conservative government.

The speech also signalled that the NDP will not rush haphazardly into a review of Alberta’s natural resource royalties, which was a key promise during the election. Despite the increasingly bizarre arguments being published in conservative newspapers, Ms. Notley is smart to take a careful and calm approach to ensuring that Albertans are receiving the best value for their natural resources.

One of the NDP’s largest challenges during this spring sitting of the Legislature falls upon Finance Minister Joe Ceci, who will be responsible for shepherding the Interim Supply Bill that will allow the government to continue operating until a new budget is introduced later in 2015.

Tories tone deaf on corporate donations

Ric McIver

Ric McIver

From their new home in the opposition benches, the message from PC interim leader Ric McIver against banning corporate donations was incredibly tone deaf. Mr. McIver’s opposition to the ban is not ideological (the Wildrose Party supports the ban) but purely practical. The PC Party relies heavily upon corporate donors for the large majority of its donations, unlike the NDP and Wildrose parties which have cultivated a large individual donor base.

A report released by the Parkland Institute last week showed that the PC Party received more than $630,000 from corporate donors during the first three-months of 2015, compared to $151,000 in individual donations of $251 or over.

During the recent election, PC leader Jim Prentice faced harsh criticism for refusing to raise corporate tax in the provincial budget while personal income taxes and many fees were increased. Culminating with a disastrous press conference held by four CEOs supporting the PCs, the corporate taxes issue led many Albertans to believe that the PCs were protecting their major donors rather than the best interests of the province.

Canadian Energy Strategy

Shannon Phillips

Shannon Phillips

Perhaps signalling that Alberta will once again seek an important role on the national stage, the throne speech alluded to plans to  “forge a much stronger partnership with our fellow provinces and with the federal government, in order to build a Canadian Energy Strategy.”

A new approach to energy cooperation on the national stage, which could include increased support for the proposed TransCanada Energy East Pipeline, along with a new climate change strategy promised by Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, could lead to Alberta being a more involved player at the July 15-17, 2015 Council of the Federation meeting in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Reaching out to opposition parties, setting a new tone

Marking a clear break from the previous PC government, Ms. Notley reached out to the opposition parties in the first day of the new legislative session, announcing the formation of two new multi-party committees.

Lesser Slave Lake NDP MLA Danielle Larivee, a Registered Nurse, and Calgary-Mountain View Liberal MLA David Swann, a physician, will co-chair a mental health review committee. And Ms. Notley announced that she and Wildrose leader Brian Jean will cooperate in the creation of a special legislative committee composed of nine government MLAs and eight opposition MLAs that will “review Alberta’s elections, whisteblower and conflict of interest legislation” (they should look at banning corporate and union donations in municipal elections as well).

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was a guest on the #abvote Google Hangout on April 9, 2015.

Notley’s NDP should ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections

One of the main promises made by the NDP before their win in the May 2015 provincial election was a commitment to ban corporate and union donations in provincial politics.

Current campaign finance laws allow individuals, corporations and labour unions to donate a maximum of $15,000 per year to a provincial political party in a non-election period and a maximum of $30,000 during an election period. The previous governing party, the Progressive Conservatives, relied heavily on corporate donations to fill their coffers but the new governing New Democratic Party and official opposition Wildrose Party have cultivated large individual donor bases that contribute smaller donations so they do not rely on larger donations.

The NDP should not limit the ban on corporate and union donations to the provincial level, they should also ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections. The provincial legislature approves the law that governs municipal election financing, which allows corporate, union and individual donations up to $5,000 during an election year. The provincial law also allows for an odd exemption that individual municipal candidates can contribute a maximum of $10,000 to their own campaign.

Research compiled by the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues in June 2014 found that in Edmonton’s recent municipal elections: (1) the most successful fundraiser was the victorious candidate in 100% of ward races; (2) successful candidates raised an average of three times more money than the second place candidate in their respective race, and four times more than all other candidates combined; and (3) on average, successful candidates received more than five times the number of donations be- tween $101 and $4,999 than other candidates, and close to triple the number of $5,000 donations (the maximum contribution).

‘The EFCL is concerned that some of our most dedicated and qualified potential public servants are getting priced out of office. It is also concerned about council members being placed in difficult situations, when the majority of the donations are coming from companies and unions that have a direct interest in decisions made by city council.’ – EFCL

Along with eliminating corporate and union donations, the NDP should also impose a cap on the total amount a candidate or campaign can spend during a campaign. While there are currently no rules, in 2010, Calgary mayoral candidate Naheed Nenshi pledged to cap his campaign’s spending at $0.65 per resident.

The EFCL also wrote in their report that municipal candidates elected to Edmonton’s 12 councillor positions raised more than $80,000 on average in 2013, including three who raised more than $100,000 and two who raised less than $50,000. The most successful fundraiser was the victorious candidate in 100% of the ward races and successful candidates generally raised three times more money than the second place candidate. Many of these donations came from corporations and unions, including building developers who have a special interest in currying good relationships with municipal councillors.

In a recent op-ed in the Edmonton Journal, Public Interest Alberta‘s Larry Booi called on the new NDP government to institute campaign spending limits, lower contribution limits to $1,200 per year, impose much stronger rules on disclosure of contributions and spending and extend the rules on contributions and spending to cover party leadership and constituency contests. While Mr. Booi’s column focused on provincial campaign finance changes, there is no reason why they also cannot be extended to municipal election campaigns.

While the rules governing third-party campaigns in provincial elections are problematic, the provincial government needs to lay out fair rules governing financial disclosures and amounts that third-party campaigns and lobby groups can spend influencing voters in municipal elections. There are already plenty of examples of wealthy individuals attempting to advance their political agendas by supporting unaccountable lobby groups, as was the case with Calgary’s infamous Sprawl Cabal‘s plans to throw more than $1 million behind Preston Manning‘s “Municipal Governance Initiative,” and the anonymous donors behind the shady ‘St. Albert Think Tank.’

The province needs to create a formal enforcement and investigation mechanism to respond to complaints about potential breeches of the municipal campaign donation laws. In one case, both the City of St. Albert and the provincial government refused to verify the candidate financial disclosures or enforce them after complaints were made by members of the public.

“My role as returning officer is to receive the submissions that candidates provide … and to make them publicly available and that’s really the extent of our role in this process,” a St. Albert’s returning officer told the St. Albert Gazette in 2014. If the municipalities will not enforce the provincially-imposed laws, then the provincial government should create an organization that will.

Premier Rachel Notley and Alberta’s new NDP government have pledged to ban corporate and union donations in provincial politics, and they now have what could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to clean up election finance laws in Alberta’s municipal elections as well.

Parkland report calls for political finance reform

The University of Alberta-based Parkland Institute released a new report this morning, Ending Pay to Play: The Need for Political Finance Reform in Alberta: “Given the consensus that exists between the government and official opposition to ban corporate and union donations, it should act immediately to do so. While this in itself would be a major victory for democracy, it is crucial that the government does not stop there, but rather works to fundamentally reform Alberta’s political culture in the public interest.”

Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley was a guest on the #abvote Google Hangout on April 9, 2015.

A closer look at what the NDP platform said about ethics in government

After 44-years of one-party government, Alberta voters stampeded to the polls to remove the Progressive Conservatives from office in the May 5 election. The defining narrative of the election was accountability and trust in government and on this issue voters coalesced around Rachel Notley‘s New Democratic Party.

Now with the election over and the NDP transitioning into government, it is important to remember what the new governing party promised in before its historic victory. Here is what the NDP said on the topic of ethics and honesty in government in its 2015 election platform with my commentary below:

(2.1) We will ban both corporate and union donations to political parties.

A policy supported by both the NDP and the Wildrose Party, this change can be expected to easily pass through the legislature. It is unknown whether the NDP will propose to lower contribution limits that individuals will be able to donate to political parties or change the current political contribution tax credit. The current annual maximum donation outside of an election period is $15,000 and during the election period is $30,000.

In Manitoba, where the NDP has governed since 1999, the maximum annual limit an individual can donate to a political party is $3,000.

(2.2) We will make infrastructure decisions and priorities transparent with a public “infrastructure sunshine list,” so that funding goes to build the most important projects rather than to promote the political fortunes of the PCs.

This policy proposal was a reaction to an Auditor General Ethics Commissioner report in January 2015 that accused Education Minister Gordon Dirks of using his office for political gain while he was running as a PC candidate in the Calgary-Elbow by-election. The report accused Mr. Dirks of authorizing the construction of modular classrooms for a school in his constituency before the by-election was held.

(2.3) We will strengthen the Conflict of Interest Act to prevent MLAs from using their position to benefit their own financial interests or that of political friends, and to strengthen cooling-off periods for former political staff. We will also expand the application of the Act to apply to all senior staff of all of our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.

The issue of MLA conflict of interest and lobbying has been an ongoing issue in Alberta politics in recent years. I could write an entire post about the Conflict of Interests Act, which I may do soon.

(2.4) We will amend the Elections Act to prohibit MLAs from using government resources during elections and we will ensure the Chief Electoral officer can effectively investigate breaches of the Act.

See my comment on (2.2) above.

(2.5) We will extend the sunshine list to include our province’s agencies, boards and commissions.

The current “sunshine list” of government salaries applies only to employees of the public service. In January 2015, the PC Government backed away from its plans to include agencies, boards and commissions, claiming that it could not force these arms-length entities from disclosing employee salaries. The NDP campaign promise did not specify whether post-secondary institutions would be included.

(2.6) We will respect the independence of all-party committees, and will work to respect and maintain the independence and adequate funding of the Officers of the Legislature, such as the Auditor General.

This proposal is a response to the blatant interference by Premier Jim Prentice in legislative committee business earlier this year which led to PC MLAs reversing their decision to not cut funding for the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate. PC MLAs also voted to cut funding for the Office of the Auditor General.

Like the perennial promise of free-votes made by opposition parties, this proposal is problematic. In our current parliamentary system, the executive branch can be expected to exert a certain amount of influence on the legislative branch of government, and this extends to committee work. The challenge is to limit that influence so that the legislative branch can be effective and not just a rubber stamp for the Premier’s Office.