Tag Archives: Graham Sucha

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 Limiting contributions to individual donors was the first move in what is expected to be an overhaul of Alberta’s outdated elections laws.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.

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.

Alberta MLAs to watch in 2016: Sarah Hoffman, Nathan Cooper, Deborah Drever, Greg Clark, Sandra Jansen, Deron Bilous, Danielle Larivee, Richard Starke, Shannon Phillips, and Prasad Panda.

A Rookie Crew: Eleven Alberta MLAs to watch in 2016

The past few years in Alberta politics have reminded us that politics can be an extraordinarily unpredictable and forecasting the future can be a very tricky business for political pundits. Aside from the obvious choices of Premier Rachel Notley, Finance Minister Joe Ceci and Wildrose leader Brian Jean, here is a list of eleven Alberta MLAs worth watching in 2016.

Deron Bilous (Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview): As Economic Development and Trade Minister, Deron Bilous faces the challenge of proving the government’s job creation plan can work as the provincial economy faces declining international oil prices.

Greg Clark (Calgary-Elbow): As leader of the one MLA Alberta Party opposition, Greg Clark is punching above his weight in getting media attention and working hard to position himself as a moderate conservative alternative to the NDP and Wildrose Parties. He was also the only opposition MLA to propose an alternative budget and climate change plan in 2015.

Nathan Cooper (Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills): With a detailed knowledge of Assembly rules and procedure, Official Opposition House Leader Nathan Cooper will prove to be a valuable asset to the rookie Wildrose Caucus.

Deborah Drever (Calgary-Bow): Elected as a New Democrat and sent into legislative exile as an Independent after embarrassing social media posts were reported, she has been the target of relentless personal attacks by Wildrose MLAs and anonymous internet trolls. She has redeemed herself as a well-spoken representative and shepherded her first private members’ bill – Bill 204 – to unanimous approval in the Legislature. Expect Ms. Drever to be invited to rejoin the NDP caucus in 2016.

Derek Fildebrandt (Strathmore-Brooks): Probably the most high profile Wildrose MLA, Derek Fildebrandt is the loudest critic of the NDP government. But his hyper-partisan outbursts, including an embarassing fight with a Globe & Mail reporter and an angry tweet directed at the Assembly Speaker, are not necessarily the kind of attention his MLA colleagues are pleased to receive. Can he tone down the rhetoric and offer reasonable solutions and alternatives in 2016?

Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora): As Health and Seniors Minister, Sarah Hoffman is well-spoken and smart as a fox. She can explain complex issues and spar with the opposition with ease. She is a contender for strongest member of Rachel Notley’s cabinet, and I place her in the “future Premier material” category.

Sandra Jansen (Calgary-North West): Sandra Jansen is the voice of the moderate wing of the Progressive Conservative Party. She has publicly clashed with interim leader Ric McIver over his decision to endorse the federal Conservatives, and with Wildrose supporters over her decision to endorse Liberal candidates in the 2015 federal election. Her record as a vocal opponent of a merger with the Wildrose would make her a candidate to watch in her party’s next leadership race.

Danielle Larivee (Lesser Slave Lake): Appointed to cabinet as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Service Alberta in a fall shuffle, Danielle Larivee has proven herself as a tough and well-spoken advocate. As one of the government’s point-people for the fumbled Bill 6 Farm Safety Bill, she demonstrated her toughness. A Registered Nurse, she is also co-chair of the government’s review of mental health services, which is expected to be released early in 2016.

Prasad Panda (Calgary-Foothills): When he won a Sept. 2015 by-election in Jim Prentice’s former constituency, he became the Wildrose Party’s only MLA from Calgary. He has been quite quiet since his win, but Mr. Panda’s performance as MLA over the coming years could determine how far his rural-based party might expand its presence in Alberta’s largest city.

Shannon Phillips (Lethbridge West): Smart, passionate and a fierce partisan, Shannon Phillips impressed many with her calm and cool delivery of Alberta’s climate change plan ahead of the Paris Climate Change conference in Nov. 2015. As Environment and Parks Minister, she helped bring together oil industry leaders and environmental groups to endorse the province’s plan. Selling the plan and its carbon tax to Albertans over the next year will be a serious test of Ms. Phillips’ political skills.

Richard Starke (Vermilion-Lloydminster): As a critic of Bill 6, Richard Starke took a more reasoned approach to criticizing the farm safety law and avoided the hysterical and negative reactions characteristic of his counterparts in the Official Opposition caucus. One of two remaining rural PC MLAs, he is said to be interested in making a bid for his party’s leadership.

Young Alberta MLA Under 30 Politics 2016

The Under 30s: Jon Carson, Michael Connolly, Estefania Cortes-Vargas, Thomas Dang, Trevor Horne, Anam Kazim, Stephanie McLean, and Graham Sucha.

The Under 30s: Another result of the massive turnover in the legislature last year was a significant drop in the average age of Alberta’s MLAs, from 53 to 40 years old. Among the newly elected younger MLAs are a handful who are under thirty-years old (including Ms. Drever, who is noted above).

While it is not uncommon to have one to two under-30s elected to the Assembly from time to time, I cannot remember a time when so many were elected at once. It is a refreshing change, as younger Albertans bring a very different perspective than the typical older, greyer elected representative.

There could be future cabinet ministers or party leaders in this group, so in 2016, I will be keeping an eye on Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Jon CarsonCalgary-Hawkwood MLA Michael Connolly, Sherwood Park-Strathcona MLA Estefania Cortes-VargasEdmonton-Southwest MLA Thomas Dang, Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Trevor HorneCalgary-Glenmore MLA Anam KazimCalgary-Varsity MLA Stephanie McLean, and Calgary-Shaw MLA Graham Sucha.


Compare this list of Alberta MLAs to watch to previous lists from 2015 and 2014.

Wednesday night candidate nomination update in Alberta [Updated]

I have made the following updates to the list of nominees and nomination candidates planning to run in Alberta’s next provincial election. Please email david.cournoyer [at] gmail.com if you have additions to the list. Thank you.

Bonnyville-Cold Lake: City of Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland is seeking the Progressive Conservative nomination to replace retiring MLA Genia Leskiw. Update: The Bonnyville Nouvelle reports that former Wildrose nomination candidate Dixie Dahlstedt is now seeking the PC nomination.

Calgary-Bow: Troy Millington announced on Twitter that he will seek the Alberta Party nomination. Mr. Millington was the Alberta Party candidate in the 2014 Calgary-West by-election.

Calgary-Cross: Alyx Nanji has now declared his intentions to seek the PC nomination in this east Calgary constituency (he initially announced he would seek the PC nomination in Calgary-Bow). Mr. Nanji is a former staffer to PC MLA Ted Morton and recently completed a degree at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. Also in Calgary-Cross, Ricardo Miranda will seek the New Democratic Party nomination scheduled for Feb. 21, 2015.

Calgary-Currie: Former political staffer Dustin Franks is challenging first-term MLA Christine Cusanelli for the PC nomination. Mr. Franks previously worked for former Member of Parliament Lee Richardson and MLA Donna Kennedy-GlansBrian Malkinson will seek the NDP nomination. Mr. Malkinson previously ran for the NDP in the Sept. 2014 Calgary-West by-election.

Calgary-Fish Creek: Three candidates have announced plans to seek the PC nomination in this south Calgary constituency: Richard Gotfried, lawyer Byron Nelson and Brad Robson.

Calgary-Lougheed: Mihai Ion is seeking the NDP nomination scheduled for Feb 21, 2015.

Calgary-Shaw: Graham Sucha is seeking the NDP nomination scheduled for Feb 21, 2015.

Cardston-Taber-Warner: Municipal District of Taber Reeve Brian Brewin is challenging Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Gary Bikman for the PC nomination. Mr. Brewin was first elected to Taber municipal council in 1998 and has been endorsed by Brooks Mayor Martin Shields (nominated federal Conservative candidate in Bow River) and former PC MLA Bob Bogle.

Former MLA Paul Hinman is said to be considering a run for the Wildrose nomination. Mr. Hinman was the MLA for this constituency from 2004 to 2008 and Calgary-Glenmore from 2009 to 2012.

Chestermere-Rockyview: The Calgary Herald reports that Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Bruce McAllister has declared he will seek the PC nomination.

Edmonton-Calder: NDP MLA David Eggen will seek his party’s nomination for re-election on Feb. 22, 2015. Mr. Eggen is currently serving his second term as MLA.

Edmonton-McClung: Public affairs consultant and PC party activist Amanda Nielsen is seeking the PC nomination.

Lacombe-Ponoka: Former Town of Ponoka Mayor Larry Henkleman is challenging Wildrose-turned-PC MLA Rod Fox and Peter Dewit for the PC nomination.

Strathmore-Brooks: Former Canadian Taxpayers Federation lobbyist Derek Fildebrandt announced this week that he will run for the Wildrose Party in this southern rural constituency. Last year, Mr. Fildebrandt was rumoured to be eyeing the Wildrose nomination in Calgary-Bow. The constituency is currently represented by MLA Jason Hale, a former Wildrose MLA who crossed the floor to the Progressive Conservatives in December 2014. Update: Update: The Brooks Bulletin reports that County of Newell Reeve Molly Douglass will challenge Mr. Hale for the PC nomination.

Whitecourt-Ste. Anne: Oniel Carlier is seeking the NDP nomination scheduled for Feb 27, 2015. Carlier is a Regional Representative at Public Service Alliance of Canada.