Tag Archives: Election Spending Limits

How much Alberta’s political parties spent in the 2019 election

Elections Alberta has released the initial financial disclosures showing how much money Alberta’s political parties spent and raised during the 2019 provincial general election campaign period spanning from February 1, 2019 to June 16, 2019.

This was the first election under the new election finance rules implemented by the New Democratic Party during their term in government. The NDP made a number of significant changes to how Alberta’s elections were financed, including banning donations to political parties by corporations and unions, and introducing a spending limit of $2,000,000 for political parties and $50,000 for candidate campaigns, but at the financial returns show, what the spending limits apply to are limited.

The $2,000,000 and $50,000 spending limits only apply to the actual 28-day election period from the time the election is called until Election Day. So the limit does not apply to the broader campaign period, which according to Section 38.1(2) of the Election Act, begins on February 1 in the year of the fixed-election date and ends ends 2 months after Election Day.

The Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act also creates exceptions to the spending limit on expenses categorized as “election expenses.” The expense limit during the 28-day election period does not apply to a candidate’s travel expenses related to the election, including meals and accommodation, a candidate’s child care expenses, expenses related to the provision of care for a person with a physical or mental incapacity for who the candidate normally provides such care, etc.

What the parties spent

Initial Financial Disclosures from Alberta's provincial political parties from the 2019 general election. The Alberta Advantage Party and Freedom Conservative Party returns have not been posted online (source: Elections Alberta)

Initial Financial Disclosures from Alberta’s provincial political parties from the 2019 general election. The Alberta Advantage Party and Freedom Conservative Party returns have not been posted online (source: Elections Alberta)

The United Conservative Party spent $4,561,362.10 while raising $3,889,582.70 during the campaign period, ending the campaign with a deficit of $671,779.40.

$1,909,116.43 of the UCP’s expenses were spent on items that fall under the provincial limit, including $1,202,965.43 spent on advertising, posters, pamphlets and promotional materials. $2,619,471.83 was spent on expenses that was exempt from the spending limit.

The NDP spent $5,363,029.30 and raised $3,706,785.66, ending the campaign with a deficit of $1,656,043.64.

Of the NDP’s campaign expenses, $1,977,367.65 were spent on items that fall under the provincial limit, including $1,363,029.74 for advertising, posters, pamphlets and promotional material. $2,200,131.09 was spent on expenses that was exempt from the spending limit.

The Alberta Party raised $206,597 and spent $199,935 during the campaign period. $118,960 of the Alberta Party’s expenses fell under the provincial limit rules, including $21,932 spent on advertising, posters, pamphlets and promotional. Of the party’s total expenses, $74,975 was exempt from the limit.

The Alberta Liberal Party raised $101,233 and spent $130,063, ending the campaign with a deficit of $28,830. The Green Party raised $14,894.40 and spent $41,702.22, earning a deficit of $26,807.82.

Some candidates spent a lot during the campaign period

The campaigns of a number of UCP candidates spent considerable amount during the course of the broader campaign period. Here is a snapshot of some of the higher candidate campaign expenses:

  • Doug Schweitzer, UCP candidate in Calgary-Elbow: spent $309,597.22, of which $268,166.23 did not fall under the spending limit.
  • Tyler Shandro, UCP candidate in Calgary-Acadia: spent $122,170.91, with $77,463.88 not falling under the spending limit.
  • Kaycee Madu, UCP candidate in Edmonton-South West: spent $101,098, with $55,527 exempt from the spending limit.
  • Dan Williams, UCP candidate in Peace River: spent $92,268, with $52,750 exempt from the spending limit.
  • Jason Luan, UCP candidate in Calgary-Foothills: spent $92,268, with $52,750 exempt from the spending limit.

No NDP candidate candidate campaign spent anywhere near the amount of the big spenders on the UCP slate, but a number of candidates did exceed the $50,000 limit:

  • Rachel Notley, running for re-election in Edmonton-Strathcona: spent $73,297, with $39,798 exempt from the spending limit.
  • Christina Gray, NDP candidate in Edmonton-Mill Woods: spent $73,576, with $27,742 exempt from the spending limit.
  • Lorne Dach, NDP candidate in Edmonton-McClung: spent $64,282, with $27,396 exempt from the spending limit.

And the campaign of Caylan Ford, the UCP star candidate in Calgary-Mountain View who withdrew from the election before the nomination deadline, was recorded to have spent $83,100,50 during the campaign period that began on February 1, 2019, with $32,676.94 of these expenses being exempt from the spending limit.

Chief Elections Officer recommends changes

Glen Resler Chief Elections Officer Alberta

Glen Resler (Source: Elections Alberta)

Chief Elections Officer Glen Resler recommended in his office’s recently released annual report that the spending limits be placed on the entire campaign period, rather than just the election period. He argued in the report that this change would “reduce the administrative burden and provide clarity for Chief Financial Officers of parties, constituency associations and candidates with respect to apportioning expenses between election and campaign periods.

Resler recommended that Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act and the Election Act be “combined into one coherent statute to make the legislation more accessible to participants and electors and provide a much-needed opportunity to renumber the legislation.” Currently, eight other provinces and territories have one piece of legislation governing provincial elections.

The report also recommends that political entities be expressly prohibited from contributing to third party advertisers, which seems to be a reaction to the decision by the now defunct Wildrose Party association in Airdrie to donate $16,000 to a political action committee.

CBC reports that the UCP government is expected to make major changes to Alberta’s election finance laws in the spring 2020 session of the Legislature. It is suspected that some changes could removing the limits of third-party advertisers to spend funds during the election and campaign periods, and raising the amount that individuals can donate to political parties. Changes are also expected to include moves to limit the ability of unions to fund third-party groups and to advocate for their members on political and policy issues.

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.