Tag Archives: Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act

Liberal Party leader David Khan and Liberal MLA David Swann (photo from Facebook)

Alberta Liberals deserve credit for pushing PAC issue onto the agenda

Photo: Liberal Party leader David Khan and Liberal MLA David Swann (photo from Facebook)

Political Action Committees will be back up for debate before MLAs depart Edmonton for the Christmas break at the end of next week.

Christina Gray Edmonton Mill Woods MLA

Christina Gray

Last week, Calgary-Mountain View Liberal MLA David Swann tabled Bill 214: An Act to Regulate Political Action Committees in the Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. The private members’ bill would amend the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act to create a legal definition for PACs, require PACs to be registered with Elections Alberta and subject them to the same financial disclosure and contribution rules as other political entities. The bill would also ban corporate, union and out-of-province donations, and prohibit political entities from donating to PACs.

“We need to shine a light on the unregulated dark money that is corrupting our democracy,” Liberal Party leader David Khan said in a Liberal Caucus news release. “Albertans deserve to know who has donated and who is donating to PACs, how much they are donating, and where this money is going afterwards. It’s the only way they can be confident that big money is not buying and selling our democracy.”

Khan made PACs one of his top issues after winning the party leadership in June 2017. He is currently running as a candidate in the December 4, 2017 by-election in Calgary-Lougheed.

PACs have become a big issue in Alberta politics since 2015, when the New Democratic Party government banned corporate and union donations to political parties as their first piece of legislation. While that action was needed and widely praised, it unintentionally opened the floodgates for now banned political party donations to be poured into PACs.

Like flowing water, political money will find the path of least resistance.

It did not take long before wealthy donors, now unable to fund political parties, began pouring funds into unregulated PACs, which with the exception of advertising activities, fall outside of Alberta’s political finance laws. The most notable PAC created since the NDP banned corporate political party donations was Jason Kenney‘s Unite Alberta PAC, which supported his campaign for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party and the United Conservative Party.

Swann’s bill defines PACs as “a corporation or group established or maintained for the primary purpose of accepting political action contributions and incurring political action expenses to engage in political promotion but does not include (i) a registered party, or (ii) a registered constituency association.”

And under the bill, a PAC must apply for registration with Elections Alberta when it has incurred expenses of $1000 or plans to incur political action expenses of at least $1000, or when it has accepted contributions of $1000 or plans to accept contributions of at least $1000.

The Order Paper for Monday, December 4, 2017 shows that Labour Minister Christina Gray, who is also responsible for democratic reform, is scheduled to introduce Bill 32: An Act to Strengthen and Protect Democracy in Alberta for first reading. Gray has said the government would introduce legislation regulating PACs, and if this bill does that, it will likely remove Swann’s bill off the Order Paper because of its similar focus.

We will have to wait until Gray’s Bill 32 is tabled before we know what action the NDP government plans to take, but even if their bill is removed from the order papers, Swann and Khan deserve the credit for making unregulated and unaccountable Political Action Committees an issue in Alberta politics.

Greg Clark Alberta Party Calgary-Elbow

Will the Alberta Together takeover turn the Alberta Party into PC 2.0?

Photo: Alberta Party leader Greg Clark on the campaign trail in Calgary-Elbow in 2014. Source: Twitter.

In the latest shakeup in Alberta politics, Greg Clark announced last Friday that he would resign as leader of the Alberta Party at the party’s upcoming annual general meeting on November 18, 2017. Clark has served as party leader since 2013 and became the party’s first elected MLA in 2015 when he unseated Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in Calgary-Elbow.

Karen McPherson Alberta Party MLA Calgary Mackay Nose HIll

Karen McPherson

With the floor-crossing of former New Democratic Party MLA Karen McPherson earlier this month, Clark had succeeded in helping double his party’s caucus. But despite generating an impressive share of media attention, Clark has been unable to raise the amounts of money the Alberta Party would need to be competitive in the next election. And even though there has been increased interest in the party’s membership since the PC Party became defunct under Jason Kenney’s leadership, the Alberta Party has not seen growth in the public opinion polls.

With the increasing influence of the Alberta Together political action committee, formed by former PC Party officials including Stephen Mandel, rumours had been circulating for months that Clark’s leadership could come to an end before the party’s annual meeting.

Over the course of its three decades in existence, the Alberta Party has become sort of a rotating door for politcos without a home, starting with western separatists in the early 1980s and disaffected Greens, Liberals, New Democrats and moderate Tories in the late 2000s. Clark was a former Liberal, having worked as a staffer at the Legislature during Laurence Decore‘s time as party leader (Clark’s father, Gilbert Clark, was 823 votes away from ending Ralph Klein‘s political career when the former mayor first ran for provincial office in Calgary-Elbow in 1989).

Now it appears the party is a new home for moderate Tories unhappy with the hard right-ward turn of the UCP under Kenney’s leadership.

Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O’Neill

As I wrote in June 2017, the Alberta Party is a blank slate with a great name, but whether or not this latest group to wander over will translate that name into electoral success is yet to be determined.

The party has the support of well-known political operatives Susan Elliott and Stephen Carter, who worked together as the top campaign strategists for Alison Redford in the 2012 provincial election – the last successful Hail Mary campaign of the PC Party.

According to the Globe & Mail, the party could lean on the Alberta Together PAC for fundraising support to help offset the costs of the leadership race. This is concerning because PACs like Alberta Together fall outside of the province’s Election Finances and. Contributions Disclosure Act, which raises legitimate concerns about transparency and accountability of political fundraising and spending.

With less than 15 months until a potential election call, the urgency surrounding the leadership and the role of Alberta Together could be a reaction to signals from Premier Rachel Notley that the NDP government plans to tighten rules governing PACs before the next election.

Now that Clark has made his announcement, it is unclear if he or the Alberta Together group have a chosen candidate waiting in the wings to run for the party leadership.

Doug Griffiths

Doug Griffiths

McPherson has said she does not intend to run and neither does Alberta Together CEO Katherine O’Neill. It is also unclear whether Clark will re-contest the leadership he is about to resign from.

Had Clark resigned four months ago, it might not be surprising to see municipal politicians like Nenshi, Edmonton mayor Don Iveson and Grande Prairie mayor Bill Given consider throwing their name in the race. But with the municipal elections having only been held on October 16, it would be difficult politically for any current municipal mayor or councillor to justify running for the leadership.

Former Morinville mayor and past Alberta Urban Municipalities Association president Lisa Holmes has been rumoured as a potential candidate, as has Nenshi’s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim.

Former PC MLAs Thomas Lukaszuk, Doug Griffiths, Teresa Woo-Paw, and Stephen Khan and current Independent PC MLA Richard Starke have been mentioned as potential candidates, though bringing in former politicians associated with an unpopular old government might not be the best strategy for the newly rebranded party.

Ryan Jespersen 630 CHED Alberta Party

Ryan Jespersen

Popular 630CHED radio host Ryan Jespersen is a compelling name on the list of rumoured leadership candidates named by Postmedia columnist Don Braid. Jespersen is well-known in Edmonton and northern Alberta, well-spoken on a wide-range of issues and is not a former PC MLA – which would be an asset if he did decide to run. (He would not be the first of his family to enter Alberta politics. His great-uncle, Ralph Jespersen, served as the Social Credit MLA for Stony Plain from 1967 to 1971).

And on the topic of radio personalities turned politicians, the political action committee named for the son of one such politician, the Manning Centre, will also hold its first Alberta Networking Conference in Red Deer on November 18. Attendees will hear from Kenny and UCP MLAs, Conservative MPs, and representatives of likeminded groups including the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and the Canadian Constitution Foundation who will “chart the course for the future” of conservative politics in Alberta.

As some conservatives will meet under Preston Manning’s banner at Red Deer College, former PC supporters and the Alberta Together group will meet across town at the Radisson Hotel to consolidate their position inside the Alberta Party. A dozen notable former PC officials are running to fill the 12 positions on the party’s board of directors:

  • Sumita Anand served as the PC Party’s west Calgary regional director until she resigned on May 24, 2017. She had served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Foothills during and immediately following Jim Prentice’s tenure as party leader.
  • Denise Brunner served as the PC Party’s vice president organization. She stepped down in January 2017 after being accused of bias by Kenney’s supporters during the PC leadership race. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she was Chief Financial Officer for the Edmonton-Castle Downs PC association in 2006 and currently serves as the president of Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Castle Downs.
  • Cole Harbin served as Executive Vice President of the PC Youth of Alberta until 2016 and as a Vice President of the PC constituency association in Lethbridge-West until 2017. He previously worked as a constituency assistant for former MLAs Doug Griffiths and former Lethbridge-West PC MLA Greg Weadick.
  • Jackie Clayton was recently re-elected to serve a second term on Grande Prairie City Council and is the former Peace Country regional director for the PC Party.
  • Kerry Cundal is a former PC Party activist and federal Liberal candidate who ran for the provincial Liberal leadership earlier this year on a platform of working closer with the Alberta Party.
  • Brian Heidecker is a big name in the former PC Party establishment. He served as Chair of University of Alberta Board of Governors, and was appointed to the boards of the Alberta Treasury Branches Board and the Alberta Securities Commission. He served as a PC Party Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer for Doug Griffiths’ 2011 campaign for the PC Party leadership.
  • Blake Pedersen was elected in 2012 as the Wildrose Party MLA for Medicine Hat and crossed the floor to the PC caucus in 2014. He was defeated by NDP candidate Bob Wanner in 2015 and currently serves as president of the Alberta Party association in Cypress-Medicine Hat.
  • Shawn Pickett served as president of the PC association in Red Deer-North and Central North regional director until resigning in July 2017, referring to Kenney’s leadership bid as a “hostile takeover” of the PC Party.
  • Stephanie Shostak is the former north Edmonton regional director for the PC Party. Shostak now serves as the president of the Alberta Party association in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview.
  • Marcel Van Hecke was the PC Party’s Northern Vice President and appears to have started attending Alberta Together meetings in July 2017.
  • Patty Wickstrom served as the PC Party’s Board Secretary until she resigned in July 2017. According to Elections Alberta financial disclosures, she previously served as president of the PC association in Calgary-Currie from 2008 to 2010.
  • Lorna Wolodko previously served as St. Albert regional director with the PC Party and worked as a constituency manager for Stony Plain PC MLAs Fred Lindsey and Ken Lemke before working in the Office of the Premier. Wolodko ran for the PC Party nomination in Stony Plain ahead of the 2015 election.

You’ll be surprised who is on Elections Alberta’s list of banned candidates

A ruling by Court of Queen’s Bench Mr. Justice William Tilleman has lifted a ban imposed on past election candidate Jamie Lall, allowing him to run in the next provincial election if he chooses. Section 57 of Alberta’s Election Act allows the Chief Elections Officer to deem an individual as prohibited from being nominated as a provincial election candidate for a period of eight or five years if they fail to file the proper financial statements with Elections Alberta following the election.

Hugh Sommerville

Hugh Sommerville

Before changes were made to Alberta’s elections laws in 1983, the head of Elections Alberta had the authority to rule individuals indefinitely ineligible to stand for provincial office if they failed to submit their financial returns on time. Three individuals are still listed as being indefinitely ineligible to run as a candidate.

“These things can happen when you’re 22 years old, and get talked into running,” wrote Hugh Sommerville in an email to the publisher of this website. The respected Drumheller-based lawyer was surprised to learn that 38 years after he stood as a provincial election candidate, he is still listed by Elections Alberta as being indefinitely ineligible to run again.

Sommerville has been elected to the board of the Law Society of Alberta and was appointed to the Alberta Health Services Board of Directors in 2015, but in 1979 he ran as a candidate for the New Democratic Party in the Three Hills constituency. He earned 222 votes.

Jamie Lall PC Chestermere Rocky View

Jamie Lall

“I ended up being ineligible because my campaign spent absolutely no money, and my campaign manager left the province for employment in Saskatchewan without filing papers to say that,” Sommerville wrote. “I was working in Fort McMurray at the time, and my mail was being sent to the family farm. By the time I actually received notice that my campaign manager had neglected to file, I was already on the naughty list,” he wrote.

The other two past candidates listed as indefinitely ineligible are Claire Williscroft, another NDP candidate in the 1979 election, and Barry Cook, an Independent candidate in the 1982 election.

“I suppose I should look into whether it is possible to get my name off the list after 38 years,“ Sommerville wrote, noting that he has no intention of running in any future provincial election.

As for Lall, he is now a member of the United Conservative Party but says he is not sure if he will run in the next provincial election, expected to be held in 2019.


Included on the list of individuals prohibited from running or serving as chief financial officers until May 9, 2024, are Edmonton City Council candidates Tony Caterina and Rocco Caterina. The senior Caterina, Tony, ran as a Progressive Conservative the 2015 election, and his son Rocco, served as his chief financial officer.

Tony Caterina told Metro Edmonton in June 2016 that he filed his financial disclosures, but was unable to retire an $11,000 deficit he incurred during the campaign.

Raj Sherman 2010

Alberta Liberals fined $2000 for violating elections finance laws

A $2,000 fine was issued against the Alberta Liberal Party in November 2016 after Elections Alberta found the party had accepted a $17,000 contribution that violated the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.

The fine was unusually large and may have marked the first time the acceptor of a donation has been fined for accepting a donation larger than the maximum annual limit allowed under Alberta’s elections laws.

The maximum annual limit for donations at the time was $15,000 when the $17,000 donation was received from the Empress Group Ltd., which was owned by former Liberal Party leader and Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman. Along with paying the $2,000 fine, the party was required to return the excessive contribution amount of $2,000 to the company.

The fine is related to a previous investigation which determined that Sherman exceeded donation limits between 2011 and 2013 by making donations through two companies he owns, Empress Group Ltd. and Raj Sherman Professional Corp. Elections Alberta deemed the two companies to be a single corporation and a fine of $500 was issued against Empress Group Ltd. The excess donations were also returned.

Party president Karen Sevcik told this blogger that the unusually large fine against the party may have been a result of the then-party leader’s involvement in the excess donations. Sevcik also pointed out that it would be impossible for the same mistake to be made again, as corporate donations were banned by the NDP in 2015 and annual individual donations are now limited to $4,000.

Candidate nominations begin for Alberta’s next election but the rules have changed

The next election may be more than two years away but that is not stopping eager potential candidates from wanting a head start on the hustings. Both the Alberta Party and Wildrose Party now beginning the process of nominating candidates for the next election.

It may feel like it is too early to start nominating candidates because Albertans are now two years, one month away from when the next provincial election is expected to be called, but we are not far away from the same time parties began nominating candidates before the last election.

Leela Aheer Wildrose MLA Chestermere Rockyview

Leela Aheer

The next election is expected to be called between March 1, 2019 and May 31, 2019, as Alberta’s fixed election legislation suggests.

The Wildrose Party will be holding its first nomination meeting on Feb. 25, 2017 in the Chestermere-Rocky View constituency. It is expected that incumbent MLA Leela Aheer will be nominated but I have heard rumours that she could face a challenge from a former municipal politician. The Alberta Party was the first to nominate a candidate for the next election when Omar Masood was chosen to represent the party in Calgary-Buffalo at a Nov. 2016 meeting.

As I have done in previous elections, I will do my best to keep track of nomination contests as they heat up.

Omar Masood ALberta Party Calgary Buffalo

Omar Masood

Expected changes to the electoral boundaries for the next election could force the parties to hold new nomination meetings, but there is a real advantage in having a candidate campaigning, fundraising and organizing early.

Amendments to the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act passed in the fall 2016 sitting of the Alberta Legislative Assembly introduced rules around the business of nominating candidates, something that did not previously exist in our province. Here are a few of the new rules:

  • Candidates running for party nominations must register with Elections Alberta. Within 10 days of the conclusion of a nomination contest, the party or constituency association is required to submit to the Chief Electoral Officer a statement including the full names of the nomination contestants.
  • Section 17(1) of the Act states that a maximum annual donation to a nomination candidate is $4,000.
  • Section 9.3 (1) states that the chief financial officer of the party or constituency association must file a statement informing Elections Alberta of the date of the official call of the nomination contest, the date of the nomination meeting, and any fee or deposit required to be paid by a person as a condition of entering the nomination contest, and the estimated cost for holding the nomination contest.
  • Section 32 (4.2) (a) states that all donors who have contributed more than $250 to a nomination campaign will have their names made public, similar to regular donations to candidates and political parties.
  • Section 41.4(1) states that nomination campaign expenses are limited to 20 percent of a registered candidate’s spending limit for an election in that constituency.
  • Section 43.01 (1) states that within 4 months after the conclusion of a nomination contest, the chief financial officer of a nomination contestant is required to file financial return with Elections Alberta.

 

Why there is unlikely to be a Conservative Party of Alberta anytime soon

As prospects of a merger of Alberta’s two estranged conservative parties appear more and more unlikely, Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean has suggested that his party may consider rebranding with a name change before the 2019 election.

Postmedia has reported that Mr. Jean’s party has registered the names Alberta Conservative Party Association and Conservative Party of Alberta Association with the province’s societies registrar.

While these names could help the Wildrose Party further align with the Conservative Party of Canada in the eyes of Albertans, there is a possibility the name change could be denied by the Chief Elections Officer because the new name could likely be confused with the other conservative party, the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta.

Section 7 (3.1) of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act states that:

If a registered party changes its name, the Chief Electoral Officer shall not vary the register accordingly if, in the Chief Electoral Officer’s opinion,

(a) the proposed name or the abbreviation of the name so nearly resembles the name or abbreviation of the name of a registered party as to be likely to be confused with the name or abbreviation of that registered party,

(b) the proposed name was the name of a registered party whose registration was cancelled or whose name was changed since the last general election, or

(c) the proposed name or abbreviation is unacceptable to the Chief Electoral Officer for any other reason.

Barring the dissolution of the current PC Party, it might be unlikely that a separate Conservative Party would be allowed to register with Elections Alberta.


The PC Party was officially registered as the Provincial Conservative Association of Alberta until when it added “Progressive” to its name in 1959, to conform with a similar change made by the federal party in 1942.

The Wildrose Party was known as the Alberta Alliance Party (a nod to the Canadian Alliance) from 2002 until 2008 when it became the Wildrose Alliance Party after merging with a group of disgruntled Alberta Alliance members who had formed the Wildrose Party of Alberta in 2007 (the first version of the Wildrose Party was never officially registered with Elections Alberta). According to Elections Alberta, the party’s name was formally changed to the Wildrose Party effective February 3, 2015.

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.