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Alberta Politics

How much Alberta’s political parties spent in the 2019 election

Elections Alberta has released the initial financial disclosures showing how much money Alberta’s political parties spent and raised during the 2019 provincial general election campaign period spanning from February 1, 2019 to June 16, 2019.

This was the first election under the new election finance rules implemented by the New Democratic Party during their term in government. The NDP made a number of significant changes to how Alberta’s elections were financed, including banning donations to political parties by corporations and unions, and introducing a spending limit of $2,000,000 for political parties and $50,000 for candidate campaigns, but at the financial returns show, what the spending limits apply to are limited.

The $2,000,000 and $50,000 spending limits only apply to the actual 28-day election period from the time the election is called until Election Day. So the limit does not apply to the broader campaign period, which according to Section 38.1(2) of the Election Act, begins on February 1 in the year of the fixed-election date and ends ends 2 months after Election Day.

The Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act also creates exceptions to the spending limit on expenses categorized as “election expenses.” The expense limit during the 28-day election period does not apply to a candidate’s travel expenses related to the election, including meals and accommodation, a candidate’s child care expenses, expenses related to the provision of care for a person with a physical or mental incapacity for who the candidate normally provides such care, etc.

What the parties spent

Initial Financial Disclosures from Alberta's provincial political parties from the 2019 general election. The Alberta Advantage Party and Freedom Conservative Party returns have not been posted online (source: Elections Alberta)
Initial Financial Disclosures from Alberta’s provincial political parties from the 2019 general election. The Alberta Advantage Party and Freedom Conservative Party returns have not been posted online (source: Elections Alberta)

The United Conservative Party spent $4,561,362.10 while raising $3,889,582.70 during the campaign period, ending the campaign with a deficit of $671,779.40.

$1,909,116.43 of the UCP’s expenses were spent on items that fall under the provincial limit, including $1,202,965.43 spent on advertising, posters, pamphlets and promotional materials. $2,619,471.83 was spent on expenses that was exempt from the spending limit.

The NDP spent $5,363,029.30 and raised $3,706,785.66, ending the campaign with a deficit of $1,656,043.64.

Of the NDP’s campaign expenses, $1,977,367.65 were spent on items that fall under the provincial limit, including $1,363,029.74 for advertising, posters, pamphlets and promotional material. $2,200,131.09 was spent on expenses that was exempt from the spending limit.

The Alberta Party raised $206,597 and spent $199,935 during the campaign period. $118,960 of the Alberta Party’s expenses fell under the provincial limit rules, including $21,932 spent on advertising, posters, pamphlets and promotional. Of the party’s total expenses, $74,975 was exempt from the limit.

The Alberta Liberal Party raised $101,233 and spent $130,063, ending the campaign with a deficit of $28,830. The Green Party raised $14,894.40 and spent $41,702.22, earning a deficit of $26,807.82.

Some candidates spent a lot during the campaign period

The campaigns of a number of UCP candidates spent considerable amount during the course of the broader campaign period. Here is a snapshot of some of the higher candidate campaign expenses:

  • Doug Schweitzer, UCP candidate in Calgary-Elbow: spent $309,597.22, of which $268,166.23 did not fall under the spending limit.
  • Tyler Shandro, UCP candidate in Calgary-Acadia: spent $122,170.91, with $77,463.88 not falling under the spending limit.
  • Kaycee Madu, UCP candidate in Edmonton-South West: spent $101,098, with $55,527 exempt from the spending limit.
  • Dan Williams, UCP candidate in Peace River: spent $92,268, with $52,750 exempt from the spending limit.
  • Jason Luan, UCP candidate in Calgary-Foothills: spent $92,268, with $52,750 exempt from the spending limit.

No NDP candidate candidate campaign spent anywhere near the amount of the big spenders on the UCP slate, but a number of candidates did exceed the $50,000 limit:

  • Rachel Notley, running for re-election in Edmonton-Strathcona: spent $73,297, with $39,798 exempt from the spending limit.
  • Christina Gray, NDP candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods: spent $73,576, with $27,742 exempt from the spending limit.
  • Lorne Dach, NDP candidate in Edmonton-McClung: spent $64,282, with $27,396 exempt from the spending limit.

And the campaign of Caylan Ford, the UCP star candidate in Calgary-Mountain View who withdrew from the election before the nomination deadline, was recorded to have spent $83,100,50 during the campaign period that began on February 1, 2019, with $32,676.94 of these expenses being exempt from the spending limit.

Chief Elections Officer recommends changes

Glen Resler Chief Elections Officer Alberta
Glen Resler (Source: Elections Alberta)

Chief Elections Officer Glen Resler recommended in his office’s recently released annual report that the spending limits be placed on the entire campaign period, rather than just the election period. He argued in the report that this change would “reduce the administrative burden and provide clarity for Chief Financial Officers of parties, constituency associations and candidates with respect to apportioning expenses between election and campaign periods.

Resler recommended that Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act and the Election Act be “combined into one coherent statute to make the legislation more accessible to participants and electors and provide a much-needed opportunity to renumber the legislation.” Currently, eight other provinces and territories have one piece of legislation governing provincial elections.

The report also recommends that political entities be expressly prohibited from contributing to third party advertisers, which seems to be a reaction to the decision by the now defunct Wildrose Party association in Airdrie to donate $16,000 to a political action committee.

CBC reports that the UCP government is expected to make major changes to Alberta’s election finance laws in the spring 2020 session of the Legislature. It is suspected that some changes could removing the limits of third-party advertisers to spend funds during the election and campaign periods, and raising the amount that individuals can donate to political parties. Changes are also expected to include moves to limit the ability of unions to fund third-party groups and to advocate for their members on political and policy issues.

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Alberta Politics

UCP staff post creepy video of NDP staffer and Independent MLA leaving a room. Kenney defends it by alleging a secret conspiracy against him.

The 51-second video is grainy, black and white, and recorded in slow motion to look like security camera footage. It is March 4, 2019. A man walks out of room into a lobby and waits for an elevator. Text appears at the bottom of the screen to tell us that he is “Jeremy Nolais, Senior Notley Advisor.” He has a pen in his mouth and looks at the person recording the video as he waits for the elevator. The video fades to black and new text appears to tell us that 10 minutes has passed as we watch Prab Gill, the Independent MLA for Calgary-Greenway, leave the same room and walk to the same elevator, giving the thumbs up to whoever is sitting behind the camera.

https://twitter.com/UniteAlberta/status/1102768192798121985

The creepy video appears to have been recorded inside the Federal Building, the recently renovated art deco fortress located on the north side of the Legislature Grounds where most Alberta MLAs have their Edmonton offices. The video was presumably recorded and edited on a mobile phone by someone with access to the building, like a United Conservative Party Caucus staffer.

The video was posted online by the “@UniteAlberta” Twitter account on on March 4 at 8:10 p.m. @UniteAlbeta is the Twitter account managed by United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s staff, but it is widely believed that UCP Caucus Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Wolf is its principal tweeter.

Viewers of the video are not told what Nolais and Gill were doing in that room, but the purpose of the video is to suggest they were plotting something nefarious and sinister. The video is clearly meant to discredit Gill, a former UCP MLA who has been at the forefront of accusations of misconduct and alleged illegal activities that took place during the UCP leadership contest in 2017.

Gill has sent letters to the Elections Commissioner and RCMP asking for them to investigate his allegations.

The Elections Commissioner is said to be investigating allegations that UCP leadership candidate Jeff Callaway was running a “kamikaze mission” backed by Kenney’s campaign in order to damage the chances of former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean winning the vote.

The Elections Commissioner recently levelled $15,000 in administrative penalties against Cameron Davies, campaign manager for Jeff Callaway’s alleged “kamikaze mission.” Davies’ offence was listed as a violation of Section 45 of the Election Finances and Contribution Disclosure Act, “Obstruction of an investigation.” 

Callaway campaign donor Karen Brown was fined $3,500 for violating Section 34(1) of the Act by contributing “$3,500 to Jeff Callaway, registered UCP leadership contestant, with funds given or furnished by another person.

The video released by the UCP was juvenile and contradicts Kenney’s oft-repeated pledge to mount a “respectful, policy-based debate during the upcoming election campaign. Kenney frequently dismisses the NDP as an “anger machine,” but stalking your opponents and video recording them inside government offices is not an example of Kenney practicing what he preaches. Whether it was intended or not, the video definitely sends a chilling message to opponents, or “enemies,” of the UCP.

In an interview with Global Edmonton’s Jen Crosby, Kenney claimed he had not seen the video that was posted online by his staff but he accused the NDP of “working in secret” and “conspiring” with Gill to attack the UCP. Without providing any evidence to back up his claims, Kenney doubled down when he later told Postmedia that “I think it’s now pretty obvious he’s channeling attacks from the NDP, it’s dirty politics at its worst…

Gill told the media that he was speaking with Nolais about an issue with a school in his district.

This is the latest example of the remarkable hubris demonstrated by the leader of a party that most polls show to be sitting somewhere between 15 per cent and 24 per cent ahead of the New Democratic Party only a few weeks before an expected election call. 

While videos on social media are probably not enough to win an election, online gaffes can definitely hurt a party’s electoral prospects.

It can be difficult to see even a narrow path to victory for the NDP in Alberta’s current political climate without Kenney making a series of major gaffes, or his staff continuing to post creepy videos of their political opponents on the internet. But it would not be the first time a political party blew a 20 point lead. Just ask Adrian Dix.

Categories
Alberta Politics

NDP expands Third Party Advertiser law to cover ‘Political Action Committee’ activities

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.

David Swann Liberal MLA Calgary-Mountain View
David Swann

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.

Rick Strankman Alberta United Conservative Drumheller Stettler MLA
Rick Strankman

“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 advertisersit 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

Greg Clark Alberta Party MLA
Greg Clark

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.