This marks the second time in the last year that the opposition NDP have out-fundraised the governing UCP, suggesting Albertans are voting with their pocketbooks and credit cards.
Here is what Alberta’s political parties raised during the fourth quarter of 2020:
Alberta Party $50,738.66
Wildrose Independence Party $45,863.49
Liberal Party $44,746.87
Green Party $17,847.00
Alberta Advantage Party – $4,055.00
Independence Party – $2,990.40
Communist Party – $100.00
This marks the first time since the UCP was created that the NDP have fundraised more money over the course of a year. According to the Elections Alberta disclosures, the NDP raised $5,061,979.02 in 2020 with the UCP narrowly behind at $5,046,322.52.
The Alberta Party, Wildrose Independence Party, Liberal Party and Green Party also saw increases in their quarterly fundraising, though they remain significantly behind the two major parties.
The maximum annual donation to political parties was increased to $4,243 from $4.000 as of January 1, 2020.
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
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
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 fall session of the Alberta Legislative Assembly reconvenes on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, with Government House Leader Jason Nixon promising up to 17 new pieces of government legislation to be introduced before MLAs break for the year in December. The Legislature was initially scheduled to return on October 22, the day after the federal election, but MLAs were called back to the capital earlier than expected. As well as new bills, UCP Finance Minister Travis Toews is expected to present an austerity budget on October 24, 2019.
The tone of the session is already expected to be confrontational, but the results of the October 21 federal election will determine whether the UCP caucus be celebratory (in the case of Conservative Party victory) or antagonized (in the case of a Liberal Party victory) as Toews tables his first budget.
It is not clear what sparked the shuffle, but there has been speculation that Premier Jason Kenney might make some minor adjustments to his cabinet this fall.
NDP wrap up town hall tour, Notley staying put.
The official opposition New Democratic Party wrapped up a multi-city town hall tour of Alberta focused on the upcoming provincial budget. The NDP likely used these town hall meetings to collect contact information and expand their outreach network while adjusting to their role as opposition after four years as government. The uncertainty created by the expected budget cuts will almost certainly be a central narrative of this legislative session.
Notley’s declaration puts aside rumours of her departure, at least for now, that fuelled speculation about an NDP leadership contest that could include former cabinet ministers and now prominent opposition critics Sarah Hoffman and Shannon Phillips.
Alberta Liberals to report on their future.
The Alberta Liberal Party is holding its annual convention on November 16 in Edmonton. The one-day meeting will include the presentation of a report by the party’s Review Committee, which was tasked determining potential options for the future of the party. The 2019 provincial election marked the first time since 1982 that the Liberals failed to elect any candidates to the Assembly. The convention will feature a keynote presentation from John Santos, a respected public opinion and political science researcher based in Calgary.
Disqualified UCP nomination candidate now separatist party president.
New additions to the list include Former MLA Ian Donovan, who ran as an Independent candidate in Cardston-Siksika, Jovita Mendita, who was a candidate for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona, and a number of Alberta Independence Party and Freedom Conservative Party candidates.
The last provincial General Election was held 3 years, 7 months, 2 days ago on May 5, 2015.
According to Section 38.1(2) of the Elections Act, a general election should be held between March 1 and May 31, and in the same three-month period in the fourth calendar year thereafter. This means that the next general election will likely be held between March 1 and May 31, 2019. This fixed election period was introduced in the Election Amendment Act passed on December 6, 2011.
Election campaign periods in Alberta last 28 days. Section 39 (d) of the Election Act states: “the 28th day after the date of the writ is the day on which voting is to take place, or if the 28th day is a holiday, the next following day not being a holiday.” There are a number of statutory and religious holidays that fall in this fixed election period when an election day would not be held: Good Friday is April 19, Easter Monday is April 22, and Victoria Day is May 20.
In accordance with our parliamentary system of government, the Elections Act also states that nothing in the law “affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.” This means that Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell could issue a writ of election and dissolve the Legislative Assembly whenever she is asked to do so by Premier Rachel Notley. It would be highly irregular for a Lieutenant Governor to deny a Premier’s wish to issue a writ of election.
There are a number of factors that could impact when exactly the election is called.
One major indicator of a party’s readiness for an election is the number of candidates they have nominated. As of today, the New Democratic Party has nominated 31 candidates in 87 districts, meaning that party will need to nominate a majority of its candidates in the first few months of 2019 in order to be prepared for a spring election. The United Conservative Party currently has nominated 74 candidates in 87 districts and will have almost an entire slate of candidates nominated by the end of 2018.
Whether the NDP will recall the Legislative Assembly in the spring of 2019 to present a Throne Speech and introduce a budget before calling an election is unknown at this point. The recent session of the Assembly, which ended on Thursday, December 6, 2018, is widely considered to be the last session in which a serious legislative agenda would be implemented. But it is not uncommon for governments to call an election immediately after tabling or passing a budget, and then using that budget as a de-facto campaign platform.
In 2015, Premier Jim Prentice called an election twelve days after a 16 days session which ended with the tabling of a provincial budget. And Premier Alison Redford called the election five days after the MLAs voted to approve that year’s provincial budget.
Tabling a provincial budget before calling an election could be a double-edge sword for the NDP in 2019.
Using a budget as its re-election platform would allow the Notley government to highlight its continued investments in health care, education, and public transportation like Calgary’s Green Line and Edmonton’s west LRT expansion, and contrast its plan with the expected slash and burn budgets that would be introduced under a UCP government led by Jason Kenney. But unless there is a big change in Alberta’s economic situation (and the international price of oil), any budget presented by the NDP in 2019 would likely have a significant deficit. While both the NDP and UCP have said they would plan to run budget deficits for the next few years, it would draw unwanted attention to an issue that is not seen as the NDP’s strength.
But whether or not a budget is tabled before the election, Finance Minister Joe Ceci is still required by the Fiscal Planning and Transparency Act to publicly release a Fiscal Update and Economic Statement on or before February 28, 2019.
Elections Alberta will release the first quarter financial disclosures of fundraising by Alberta’s political parties in mid-April 2019. And if the UCP continues dominating in the fundraising field, the NDP may want to avoid a round of news coverage about how they have been out-fundraised by its main conservative opponent.
A shrewd calculation related to when the election is held could be related to when voters of certain demographics are likely to be in Alberta and have easy access of voting stations. Calling an early election could limit the ability of vacationing snowbirds to cast their ballots in the election. Polls have suggested that the UCP has a considerable lead over the NDP among voters over the age of 65.
On the other end of the demographic spectrum, calling an early election in 2019 would ensure that university and college campuses are in session when the election is held. Polls suggest that the NDP have stronger support among younger and university educated voters. Mobilizing the student vote could make a difference in a number of electoral districts currently represented by the NDP, including Calgary-Currie, Calgary-Mountain View, Calgary-Varsity, Edmonton-Centre, Edmonton-Riverview, and Lethbridge-West.
Delay the election to late 2019 or early 2020?
Notley said publicly in 2017 that she intends to follow both the spirit and letter of Alberta’s fixed-election-date legislation. But as we all know, circumstances sometimes change in politics.
There might be a backlash of public opinion, like the Progressive Conservative government faced when it called an election one year early in 2015, but the NDP do have the ability to wait until Spring 2020 to call the next provincial election. Alberta’s Election Act fixes the period to every four years, but the Charter of Rights and Freedoms says otherwise.
According to Section 4. (1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at a general election of its members.”
The decision to delay the next general election beyond Spring 2019 could have drastic electoral consequences for the NDP, but if the party already sees its chances of re-election as slim, as most polls suggest, it might be convinced to take the gamble. Waiting until late 2019 or early 2020 could mean the election could be held after the start of construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and as the economy continues to recover from the drop in the international price of oil in 2014.
Delaying until 2020 would also give Notley an opportunity to campaign against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the expected October 2019 federal election. This would give Notley an opportunity to create some distance between herself and Trudeau, who had allies on the climate change file before their political relationship broke down over the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion delays.
Delaying the election would have unclear consequences for Third Party Election Advertisers.
The Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act currently states these groups, commonly known as Political Action Committees, are limited to spending $150,000 province-wide on election-related advertising between December 1 in the year before an election and election day. This legislation was passed under the assumption that the fixed-election period would be honoured. If the election is delayed until past spring 2019 and the post-December 1 limits continue to be implemented, the ability of PACs to advertise during the election would be severely limited.
Former party leader Greg Clark succeeded in generating significant media attention for the Alberta Party after the last election but the party struggled to raise money under Clark’s leadership. The party raised just over $50,400 in 2016 and $171,411 in 2017, compared to $1.7 million raised by the NDP in 2017.
As a well-known politician with strong ties to Edmonton’s business community, fundraising is not likely to be one of Mandel’s weaknesses. In his bid re-election as the PC MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud in 2015, Mandel’s campaign raised $268,965. And, if one upcoming fundraising event suggests, his network of supporters includes some big fundraising names from the old PC Party network.
Former PC Party fundraisers John Chomiak and Brian Heidecker, along with multi-party donor Marc de La Bruyère are the names included in a recent fundraising email soliciting the sale of $200 tickets to a reception with Mandel on April 11 in Edmonton.
Chomiak is an experienced fundraiser with deep ties to the now-defunct PC Party and past leadership candidates Ed Stelmach and Gary Mar. Heidecker served as a PC Party Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer for Doug Griffiths’ 2011 campaign for the PC Party leadership. de La Bruyère has made significant contributions to multiple parties in the past. According to Elections Alberta records, de La Bruyère donated $6,000 to the PC Party in 2015, $1,500 to the Liberal Party in 2016, and $4,000 to the Alberta Party in the final quarter of 2017.
The results of the first quarter of fundraising for 2018 should be released by Elections Alberta before the end of April.
The fine was unusually large and may have marked the first time the acceptor of a donation has been fined for accepting a donation larger than the maximum annual limit allowed under Alberta’s elections laws.
The maximum annual limit for donations at the time was $15,000 when the $17,000 donation was received from the Empress Group Ltd., which was owned by former Liberal Party leader and Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman. Along with paying the $2,000 fine, the party was required to return the excessive contribution amount of $2,000 to the company.
The fine is related to a previous investigation which determined that Sherman exceeded donation limits between 2011 and 2013 by making donations through two companies he owns, Empress Group Ltd. and Raj Sherman Professional Corp. Elections Alberta deemed the two companies to be a single corporation and a fine of $500 was issued against Empress Group Ltd. The excess donations were also returned.
Party president Karen Sevcik told this blogger that the unusually large fine against the party may have been a result of the then-party leader’s involvement in the excess donations. Sevcik also pointed out that it would be impossible for the same mistake to be made again, as corporate donations were banned by the NDP in 2015 and annual individual donations are now limited to $4,000.
Following last week’s release of Alberta’s political party financial disclosure reports for 2014, I thought it would be interesting to look at the history of political donations in our province over the past ten years. Annual and quarterly financial disclosure reports are available for public consumption in difficult to search pdf files on the Elections Alberta website.
[See the charts below for the ten year fundraising trend for Alberta’s four main political parties]
Alberta’s two main conservative parties – the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose Party – remained the dominant forces in political fundraising in 2014. The PC Party’s impressive $3.2 million sets a record for the party, while the Wildrose Party’s $2.1 million is only slightly less than the party fundraised in the year before the 2012 election.
The New Democrats collected an impressive $776,674 in donations in 2014, a record high for that party. The Liberals raised $361,112, slightly less than their 2013 fundraising totals, and the Alberta Party raised $108,837 in donations, a record for that party.
The PC Party continued to rely heavily traditional corporate donors and individual donations in amounts larger than $250, while the Wildrose Party and NDP continued to collect significant amounts of funds in amounts smaller than $250 (nearly half of the Wildrose donations were in amounts smaller than $250).
Here is a look at the ten year fundraising trend for Alberta’s four main political parties:
(Note: These charts take into account fundraising by the central parties, not constituency associations. Information about constituency association financial returns is available separately in individual pdf documents on the Elections Alberta website).
Wildrose Party raised $1,572,159.26 in the first two quarters of 2014, slightly down from their $1,625,290.94 raised during the same period in 2013. The PCs, despite their recent internal turmoil, are claiming $1,406,924.81 raised by the party in the first half of 2014, up from the $1,237,607.50 raised in the same period in 2013.
As the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson wrote in his column yesterday, “[t]he issue here is not that the PCs are bad at raising money, it’s that the Wildrose party is proving particularly good at raising money.”
Not included in these numbers are funds raised at the constituency level, where the Tories raised more than the Wildrose. This should not be a surprise, as the PC Party has 59 MLAs who form the government. That the Wildrose Party has only 17 MLAs and has continues to be successful at party level fundraising remains troubling for the long-governing PCs.
While the Tories continue to show heavy reliance on large corporate donations to fill their coffers, a significant percentage of Wildrose funds come from individual donations in amounts less than $250.00.
The Tories continue to show signs of weakness in constituencies represented by Wildrose MLAs. The Medicine Hat PC Association has not raised any funds since 2012 and the Innisfail-Sylvan Lake Tories claimed $300.00 in the second quarter of 2014, its first revenue since 2012.
Meanwhile, the Wildrose Party appears to be dormant in two important northern constituencies – Fort McMurray-Conklin and Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo. According to financial disclosures, the two Wildrose constituency associations have not raised any funds since 2012, when PC-turned-Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier was unseated by Tory Mike Allenin Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo.
Looking at the other parties, the NDP showed positive growth as their fundraising numbers increased by more than $26,000 from last year to $273,214.50 in the first half of 2014. The Liberals continue to be stuck in fourth place in the fundraising department, only raising $181,385.56 in the first half of 2014.