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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.