Tag Archives: Election Spending Limits

Grant Notley introduced a bill to limit election campaign spending in 1972

As Alberta MLAs debate the merits of limiting spending in election campaigns, introducing a reimbursement system and lowering the amount individuals can donate to political parties, let us cast our attention back to 1972 when rookie New Democratic Party MLA Grant Notley, the father of current Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, proposed similar changes.

Grant Notley

Grant Notley

Mr. Notley’s first private members’ bill, An Act to Amend the Elections Act, proposed the creation of spending limits and the disclosure of financial contributions to candidates and political parties, which was not required at the time.  The bill proposed to limit campaign spending to “25 cents per elector in the aggregate” or “$2,000 in anyone electoral division.” According to the Bank of Canada online inflation calculator, $2,000 in 1972 would be the equivalent of $11,898.62 in 2016.

The first major principle in the bill is the concept that election expenses should be limited. It is my submission, Mr. Speaker, that it is important in a democratic society that all political points of view should have, as much as possible, equal access to public opinion,” Mr. Notley said when introducing Bill 202 for second reading in the Legislative Assembly. “The lack of control over the expenditures in an election campaign can lead to a great inequality in the right of political organizations to make their case before the people of the province or the country.”

Mr. Speaker, one of the principal reasons for limiting election expenses is that, in my view, it would force political parties to move away from what I claim to be an over-dependence on the public media and to get back to the kind of participatory campaigning which to me is basic to the whole democratic process,” Mr. Notley argued.

The bill faced stiff opposition from some of his conservative colleagues in the Assembly.

Gordon Taylor

Gordon Taylor

Bill Purdy, the Progressive Conservative MLA for Stony Plain, warned that “…if we regulate campaign spending we are getting away from the democratic system” and Edmonton-Jasper Place PC MLA Les Young argued that “…the amount of money suggested in this particular bill, is in my opinion, quite inadequate. It is not a great deal more than I spent in my own personal campaign, but nevertheless, it would be quite inadequate if applied on a provincial basis.

And cabinet minister Julian Koziak, the PC MLA for Edmonton-Strathcona, argued that “that if the gentleman will recall the election expenses that were advertised especially for the constituencies of Edmonton Glenora and Edmonton Whitemud by the Social Credit candidates, one can verily see that the amount spent has no bearing on the results of the election.”

Drumheller Social Credit MLA Gordon Taylor, who would later join the PC Caucus, spoke in support of Mr. Notley’s bill:

I would like to support Bill No. 202 in principle. When I say that I can’t say I could subscribe to everything in the bill from clause to clause. But I think the principle of limiting to some degree election expenses is very sound. If each candidate from every status of life is going to have a reasonably equal chance to present his platform to the electorate then there has to be some limitation on the amount of money. Because otherwise we’re making things very unequal.

The labouring man can’t find huge sums of money with which to fight an election campaign, compared to a man who happens to be wealthy — and instead of saying a ‘labouring man’ let’s say a ‘poor man’, whatever category he happens to be in. He might be a doctor or lawyer, too, some of them are poor, maybe not very many but a few of them are poor also. But a poor man cannot find the same kind of money — large sums of money — to fight an election campaign from his own resources compared to a wealthy man.

When it comes to contributions from other people the poor man may have a wider scope and may be able to secure more money than a wealthy man, but it is questionable whether he could secure sufficient money to equal that of a wealthy man who is determined to be elected by the amount of money he has.

But perhaps the most colourful and poetic commentary during the 1972 debate came from Charles Drain, the Social Credit MLA for Pincher Creek-Crowsnest:

“…looking at it as a history of democracy and a tree of democracy and how it has grown from the time of Athens and the time of ancient Rome and even to the time of the Magna Carta, when the voting and the processes of democracy, and the right of he who could hold office was predetermined by the prerogatives of birth, and in later time by religion and ancestry, and watching the progress that we have now made.

Truly, Mr. Speaker, the tree of democracy has managed to flourish despite the fact that it has been bent by many winds, many winds that have been retrogressive. But in spite of all this, we evolved onward and prosperously further along the road to what true democracy should mean to all of us. The right of people to predetermine the management of their affairs.”

So as history evolves, we can look at the history of early elections in Canada and the politician who bought the greatest amount of whiskey won the election, and this is history because I know where of I speak. I have talked to old timers who have managed to drink vast quantities of liquor for one party and then vote for the other; which is proper democratic justice.”

Bill 202 was debated in the Legislature but does not appear to have made it further than second reading. Mr. Notley would go on to introduce private members’ bills in 1974, 1977 and 1979 that also proposed amending the Elections Act to limit campaign spending by candidates and political parties in Alberta elections.

Levelling the playing field in Alberta Elections

For many decades, Alberta’s old Progressive Conservative government benefited greatly from large corporate donors which would help keep the governing party’s campaign war-chest flush with cash. It was well-known in Alberta political circles that the PC Party had the goal of always having enough money in their bank account to run two back-to-back election campaigns at any time. And usually they did.

The first law passed by Alberta’s New Democratic Party government after its election in May 2015 banned of corporate and union donations. Limiting contributions to individual donors was the first move in what is expected to be an overhaul of Alberta’s outdated elections laws. It was a good place to start, but there is much more work to be done.

The all-party MLA Special Select Ethics and Accountability Committee was created last year in order 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. The committee will make recommendations to the government for changes to the four laws and any changes introduced by the government will be debated in the Legislative Assembly.

Here are three changes that have been debated by the committee recently:

Rod Loyola Edmonton Ellerslie NDP

Rod Loyola

Reimbursements: A motion introduced by Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Rod Loyola on August 10, 2016 recommended “that the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act be amended to provide for a rebate of 50 per cent of registered parties’ and registered candidates’ campaign expenditures provided that campaigns receive at least 10 per cent of the vote cast and file all required financial returns.” Similar subsidies exist in federal elections and in many other provinces.

I understand the arguments in favour of this policy, but unfortunately the NDP MLAs are not going into great lengths to explain them. I do not believe these types reimbursements actually “level the playing field,” as Mr. Loyola argued when he proposed the motion. These types of reimbursements reward candidates and parties that spend the most money, even if they lose the election. A very generous tax credit system already exists for individuals who donate to candidates and political parties, and in my opinion that should be sufficient.

If the MLAs truly want to level the playing field through a financial reimbursement program, they should study the funding system that existed federally between 2004 and 2015, which tied a financial reimbursement to political parties to the number of votes they earned in an election.

Graham Sucha MLA

Graham Sucha

Spending Limits: Last week, I wrote about the committee’s recommendation to create campaign spending limits and I was pleased to see Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Sucha have his original motion amended to raise to initial proposed limits (which I believed were too low). The new proposal would increase the limits per campaign to $70,000 for local campaigns and an $80,000 limit for four northern constituencies. Party province-wide campaign would be limited to spending $0.80 per eligible voter, which is similar to the limit that exists in Ontario.

I do believe it is arbitrary to simply name four constituencies as exemptions, as the province’s electoral boundaries will be redrawn before the next election and these four constituency may not exist in their current form when the next election is called. It might make more sense to create a formula based on population and geography to determine whether special exceptions are required for spending limits in northern and remote rural constituencies.

Chris Nielsen MLA

Chris Nielsen

Donation Limits: Currently, any individual can donate a maximum of $15,000 annually to a political party outside of election periods and $30,000 to a political party during election periods. A motion introduced by Edmonton-Decore MLA Chris Nielsen and amended by Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr would lower financial contribution limits to $4,000 during election periods and $2,300 outside election periods.

The committee continues to meet this week, so I am anticipating there will be more to write about in the days to come.

Justin Trudeau, Jason Kenney, election spending limits and PPAs

I joined Brock Harrison and Dónal O’Beirne to talk politics with Ryan Jespersen this morning on 630CHED.

For your listening pleasure, here is part one and part two of our hour long discussion about shirtless Justin Trudeau, twitter warrior Jason Kenney, spending limits in Alberta elections, and the ongoing saga of the Power Purchasing Agreements.

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.