Alberta Politics

Edmonton Mayor swipes at NDP, Wildrose over Katz arena funding.

“Danielle Smith will probably yell and scream. Brian Mason will yell and scream. They really don’t care about the City of Edmonton, I guess, but I would hope they would be wise enough to see it’s about Edmonton.” – Mayor Stephen Mandel (December 18, 2012)

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel
Stephen Mandel

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel took swipes at NDP leader Brian Mason and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith as the latest saga of the never-ending debate over Edmonton’s downtown arena entered a new phase. The two provincial party leaders have been vocal critics of the proposed downtown arena funding formula and the Mayor’s proposal for the provincial government to provide $100 million in funding.

While his eight-year occupancy in the city’s executive office has generally been positive, Mayor Mandel has become known for making hot-headed abrasive comments about his critics (see the quote at the top of this post). Perhaps the most notable example was when Mayor Mandel admonished Members of Parliament after the federal government denied funding for Edmonton’s poorly communicated Expo bid in 2010.

Brian Mason Alberta NDP leader 2012 Election
Brian Mason

As for yesterday’s comments directed towards the two provincial leaders, Mayor Mandel previously sparred with Ms. Smith when the rookie politician from Calgary waded into the heated City Centre Airport debate in advance of the 2010 municipal election. In an interview with the Edmonton Journal, Ms. Smith, who has been a harsh critic of provincial government spending, said she will propose a new lottery funding model for Mr. Katz’s arena in the new year.

Mr. Mason, a former City Councillor, is a veteran of Edmonton’s Peter Pocklington-era and appears to have enjoyed the opportunity to jump into the Katz funding fray.

The latest phase in the never-ending downtown arena saga

After the Katz Group surprised Edmontonians in September 2012 by rejecting a generous funding formula that had been agreed to earlier this year, an envoy representing billionaire pharmaceutical baron Daryl Katz, owner of the locked-out Edmonton Oilers, informed City Council of Mr. Katz’s desire to restart negotiations to fund the new arena.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Party Alberta Election 2012
Danielle Smith

Last week, the Katz Group’s envoy appeared with a request to appear before City Council, which they did last Wednesday. It is suspected that Mr. Katz is beginning to see his window of opportunity may be closing. With a municipal election being held next fall, Mr. Katz could lose one of his strongest allies, Mayor Mandel, who is considering seeking re-election. If a new agreement is not reached before next summer, Mr. Katz’s costly venture risks becoming a defining issue of the October 2013 vote, which might not play out to his benefit (the Katz Group was strategically silent during the 2010 election).

Yesterday, Mayor Mandel once against began pressing the downtown arena issue, saying that a new deal must be reached within the next six weeks (keep in mind that this issue has been simmering for years).

One of the biggest flaws of the original mega-deal between the City of Edmonton and the Katz Group was the absence of $100 million in funding. Mayor Mandel has been adamant that the provincial government will fill the revenue gap, despite continued assurances from Premier Alison Redford, Finance Minister Doug Horner, and Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, that this will not happen. With the provincial budget likely to be the largest political battle of 2013, the cards are likely not to be dealt in Mayor Mandel’s favour.

The Wildrose Party’s candidate for Mayor?

On another topic, while the Wildrose Party continues its permanent negative campaign against the provincial Tories into the new year, a party organizers tells me that a a group of Wildrose Party supporters in Edmonton are quietly searching for an ideologically-sympathetic candidate to run in next year’s mayoral election (he suggested that right-wing Councillor Kerry Diotte would suitably fit into the Wildorse Party mould).

Alberta Politics

A case for finance reform: Reclusive billionaire allegedly donated $430,000 to PC Party.

Canadian Money

Mr. Katz declined requests for comment” was probably the least surprising sentence printed in the Globe & Mail this week as the national newspaper published reports that reclusive billionaire Daryl Katz had allegedly donated $430,000 to Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party during the recent provincial election. The maximum contribution limits allowed under elections financing laws are $30,000 during the election, which makes these allegations against Mr. Katz and Premier Alison Redford‘s governing party absolutely shocking.

Daryl Katz

Initial reviews of the recently released Elections Alberta financial disclosures from the election period showed that Mr. Katz, his wife, his parents, his company and its top executives donated a combined $300,000 to the PC Party. This number was increased yesterday when the Globe & Mail reported that a source close to the PC alleged that “Mr. Katz provided a cheque for $430,000 to the PCs, a donation that was broken up into smaller pieces.” If true, Mr. Katz’s donations would represent a significant amount of the $1,522,581 raised through donations by the PC Party during the recent election.

Mr. Katz, the billionaire pharmaceutical retail company magnate and owner of the Edmonton Oilers, had previously only made small contributions to the PC Party and the Wildrose Party. In 2007, Mr. Katz’s company donated $15,000 to Mayor Stephen Mandel‘s re-election campaign.

This debacle comes only weeks after Mr. Katz’s attempted to renegotiate through the media the rich deal his company had already negotiated with the City of Edmonton to fund construction of a new sports arena. When City Councillors justifiably asked Mr. Katz to meet with them to discuss his new demands, the billionaire refused and then claimed through the purchase of an expensive full-page advertisement in a local newspaper that Councillors were being unreasonable.

Alison Redford Alberta Election 2012 Conservative leader
Alison Redford

One of the big sticking points of the original funding agreement between the City and the Katz Group was the $100 million missing from the proposed funding formula. While Mayor Mandel has been reported as saying he was confident the provincial government would fill the funding gap, Premier Redford, Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, and Finance Minister Doug Horner have been firm in their comments that the province would not provide the $100 million (likely due to similar funding demands that would emerge from Alberta’s other major urban centres).

Mr. Katz’s past donations to provincial political parties, which have been relatively small, makes these large donations suspect. Did Mr. Katz believe that these contributions would help his company’s chances of receiving funding from the provincial government for their proposed sports arena? Alberta’s opposition politicians seem to believe so.

New Democrat leader Brian Mason, who was a city councillor when Edmonton’s last cherished (sic) sports team mogul, Peter Pockington, threatened to move the Oilers unless the municipal government caved to his demands, has been speaking out for the past few years against provincial funding for the arena.

Brian Mason Alberta NDP leader Election 2012
Brian Mason

Mr. Mason, official opposition leader Danielle Smith, and Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson questioned Premier Redford and her cabinet ministers in Question Period yesterday. Not surprisingly, Premier Redford downplayed the allegations, saying that her party would cooperate with any investigation into the matter and that the PC victory in the recent election showed Albertans had confidence in her government.

In the months before the provincial election, Premier Redford’s Tories were criticized for accepting donations from municipalities and public institutions, which are banned under political finance laws. The slow response and lack of transparency of the investigations carried out by Elections Alberta made a strong case for stronger enforcement and reform of Alberta’s election finance laws. Mr. Katz’s alleged donations makes the case even stronger.

Who raised how much?

Elections Alberta released the financial disclosures this week, giving Albertans a chance to view how well funded Alberta’s political parties were during the recent election.

Raj Sherman‘s Liberals raised $112,407 in individual and corporate donations during the election campaign, the New Democrats raised $517,165, the Alberta Party raised $36,967, and Ms. Smith’s Wildrose Party raised a staggering $2,935,008 and spent more than $3 million during that period.

The governing Progressive Conservatives only raised $1,522,581 in financial contributions during the election period and spent $4,663,202, running a deficit of more than $3 million.

It is important to note that these disclosures only include the funds raised by the political parties during the election. Individual candidates raised significant amounts during the election campaign.