Alberta Politics

Pressure builds for Alberta to ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections

On June 22, 2015, Alberta’s new NDP Government passed Bill 1: An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta, imposing a retroactive ban on corporate and union donations to provincial political parties starting on June 15.

Don Iveson Edmonton Mayor Election
Don Iveson

Since that law passed, pressure has been building for the provincial government to extend that ban to municipal elections. The level of spending by some candidates in the last municipal election was described as “insane” by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, after some Calgary city council candidates raised more than $270,000 largely through corporate donations.

During the debate about the provincial law, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson called for the ban to be extended to municipal elections. Last week, Edmonton City Council voted in favour of a motion introduced by Councillor Andrew Knack to ask the provincial government to ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections.

Edmonton Public School Board trustees endorsed a similar motion introduced by trustee Michael Janz on June 23, 2015.

Andrew Knack Edmonton Ward 1
Andrew Knack

A special select Ethics and Accountability Committee chaired by Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray is set 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.

While the committee is not specifically reviewing the Local Authorities Elections Act, the law that governs municipal elections, the MLAs on that committee should be encouraged to ask Municipal Affairs Minister Deron Bilous to extend the changes municipal elections before the 2017 municipal elections.

Christine Gray MLA Edmonton Mill Woods
Christina Gray

Any move to ban on corporate and union donations in municipal elections must also include resources to enforce the law, which has been lacking under the current legislation. Some municipalities have even refused to enforce the existing legislation.

Here is the motion approved by Edmonton City Council:

That the Mayor write a letter and/or advocate to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Premier:

1. Requesting that the city be given be the ability to independently establish campaign finance and disclosure rules in advance of the 2017 Municipal Election, either via the City Charter or other means.

2. Notwithstanding desiring the autonomy for municipalities to set the other campaign finance and disclosure rules, Edmonton calls for amendments to the Local Authorities Elections Act to eliminate corporate and union donations for all local election candidates.

3. Requesting that should the legislature move to limit corporate and union contributions for all local elections, that the province level the playing field by introducing tax credit eligibility for local election donations.

4. That restrictions on contributions and related disclosure requirements be the same for third party advocacy groups/individuals as they are for municipal candidates.

7 replies on “Pressure builds for Alberta to ban corporate and union donations in municipal elections”

I’m a bit concerned about giving tax credits for civic election contributions. Which tax base? The only tax municipalities charge is the property tax; but what if a renter makes a contribution? Any tax credit against property tax would end up in the pocket of the landlord. And what about other local authorities, such as school boards? How would that work?

OTOH the credits could go against peoples’ provincial income taxes. There is some logic to this, since municipalities and school boards are creatures of the province. But that would also mean taxpayers in Edmonton would be, in effect, subsidizing municipal candidates in Calgary, Ft McMurray, and Grande Prairie, just to name a few, and vice-versa. Do we want that?

I think this issue deserves serious and thoughtful consideration of the pros and cons. Hopefully the Committee will take this up.

I ran in 5 municipal elections and never accepted a dime from anyone. I don’t want business or private donations to influence any of my decisions !!

Jeez, Ed, donations only influence you if you allow them to. You have the power of self-determination, my friend. David, let’s be truthful here. The NDP didn’t ban corporate and union donations, they just hid them. From Bennett Jones analysis of Bill 1, “…While corporations, trade unions and employee organizations will now be prohibited from making financial contributions to political parties, they will be permitted to guarantee loans or provide collateral security for any loan, obligation or indebtedness of a registered party, constituency organization or candidate.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

Would a spending limit not make more sense? Municipal elections are arguably the hardest elections to win because you do not have a party brand to rely on. A candidate needs to get out and create their own narrative and drive home their own principles without the help from a central party with a central campaign team driving an overarching message. This requires resources aka money. Also, incumbency is more important at the municipal level in terms of re-election than at any other level of government. An incumbent has a natural fundraising edge and if you eliminate corporate and union donations that edge is only increased. A spending limit allows individuals to play within the same confines without punishing those who are better at fundraising.

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