Photo: Labour Minister Christina Gray. (Photo from premierofalberta on Flickr)
Labour Minister Christina Gray , who is responsible for the Alberta NDP government’s democratic renewal initiatives, introduced Bill 32: An Act to Strengthen and Protect Democracy in Alberta into the Legislative Assembly on December 4, 2017.
The bill pulls ‘Political Action Committees’ under the Election Finances and Contribution Disclosure Act by expanding the activities covered in the Third Party Advertisers section beyond just advertising. If passed, the law would now cover typical PAC activities, such as selling memberships, fundraising, collecting or compiling information about voters, and other administrative activity for a party, candidate, leadership contestant or nomination contestant.
The bill would limit individual PAC spending to $150,000 on political activities in the three months ahead of Alberta’s fixed election period and to $150,000 during the election period. Only $3,000 of the $150,000 would be able to be used to promote or oppose the election of one or more candidates in any one electoral district.
The bill would also prevent collusion between PACs, preventing groups of PACs from pooling their funds and resources. The bill would create an independent Election Commissioner who would be responsible for “investigating complaints and recommending prosecutions.”
The bill falls short of limiting annual donations to PACs and banning corporate, union and out-of-province donations, which a private members’ bill introduced by Liberal MLA David Swann and championed by leader David Khan proposed to do.
“Simply put, our bill is a better bill and will do a better job of getting dark money out of politics,” Khan said in a press release responding to Bill 32.
As an expanded list of PAC-type activities now fall under the province’s election finance laws governing third party advertisers, it is my understanding that all donations to registered PACs will be disclosed to Elections Alberta, eliminating the ‘dark money‘ element of PACs in Alberta.
Bill 32 also makes a number of amendments to the Election Act, including the ability of Elections Alberta to collect information of 16 and 17-year-olds in order to automatically register them to vote when they turn 18, extend advance voting by one day, and improve mobile voting stations.
Gray’s Bill 32 also incorporates some changes around government advertising during election periods that were included in a private members’ bill introduced by Drumheller-Stettler UCP MLA Rick Strankman in 2015.
Then a Wildrose MLA, Strankman’s Bill 203: Election (Restrictions on Government Advertising) Amendment Act was referred to the Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee in November 2015, but was never formally dealt with before the dysfunctional committee disbanded in September 2016.
With only three days remaining in the Legislative session, it is expected this bill will pass third-reading before MLA’s break for the holiday season on Thursday, December 7, 2017.
Alberta Party leadership race extended
We have heard a lot of talk but have not seen much activity in the Alberta Party leadership race since current leader Greg Clark announced he would step down 25 days ago. The party released the rules of its leadership race on December 4 and, perhaps realizing the clock is ticking, moved the date of the leadership vote from February 7 to February 27.
Ron Dunseith will serve as Chief Returning Officer for the Alberta Party’s 2018 leadership race. Dunseith served as President of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta from 1999 to 2002 and the Chief Returning Officer for the party’s 2017 leadership campaign. He also served as campaign co-chairman of Dave Hancock‘s campaign during the PC Party’s 2006 leadership election.