NDP introduces legislation to tackle ‘big money’ and ‘special interests’ in Alberta politics

A file photo of Alberta's Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal, Christina Gray, is shown.
A file photo of Alberta's Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal, Christina Gray, is shown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta’s NDP government introduced legislation Monday that it says is aimed at reducing the impact of “big money” and “special interests” from influencing elections.

If passed in the legislature, the Fair Elections Financing Act would introduce a sunshine list for third-party advertising and cap the contributions from individual campaign donors per calendar year at $4,000.

The NDP said the limit would apply to “any combination of parties, constituency associations, candidates, byelection candidates, leadership contestants and nomination contestants.” Currently, individual donors can contribute $15,000 per calendar year and up to $30,000 in an election year.

“We are ending the days of backroom deals and pay-to-play politics,” Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal Christina Gray said.

“We’re standing up for Albertans who say, ‘Enough is enough.’ Because Albertans decide elections, not big money and not special interest groups.”

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“Albertans decide elections, not big money and special interests,” Premier Rachel Notley said in a statement Monday. “True democracy ensures equal opportunity for all, and these amendments would level the playing field so that political parties, leaders and candidates focus on the strength of their ideas rather than the depth of their donors’ pockets.”

READ MORE: Alberta NDP looking to cap election spending

Watch below: Tom Vernon filed the following report on Aug. 15, 2016 about the NDP’s plans to reform election campaign spending.

Click to play video: 'Alberta NDP looks to cap election spending' Alberta NDP looks to cap election spending
Alberta NDP looks to cap election spending – Aug 15, 2016

The proposed legislation also calls for changes that would limit how much can be spent on a campaign, rules for leadership contests and nomination races and loans made to political parties.

If passed, the legislation would cap how much parties can spend on a campaign at $2 million while it would also put in place a $50,000 cap for each individual candidate’s campaigns in their electoral divisions. However, spending exemptions would be allowed for travel and meal costs, child care costs incurred by the candidate, some expenses incurred by a candidate with a disability during their campaign and expenses like parking and gas incurred by campaign volunteers.

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“Last year, we banned corporate and union donations and we are now taking the next step to strengthen the democratic process,” Gray said. “Our comprehensive approach is aimed at encouraging fair elections and making sure we close back doors and loopholes that allow big money to flow into the electoral process.”

According to the NDP, the law would stipulate that “over-contributions would have to be returned to the contributor in accordance with instructions from the Chief Electoral Officer” and that “non-monetary contributions” would also count as political contributions, although it did not specify how.

The proposed legislation would also bar corporations, unions and employee organizations from letting employees take paid time off to volunteer for political campaigns.

The Fair Elections Financing Act would impose a $10,000-spending limit on nomination contestants, who would be required to register and report to the Chief Electoral Officer when they announce their intention to seek the nomination.

In addition to bringing in a sunshine list for third-party advertising, the proposed legislation would cap how much third-party advertisers can spend at $150,000. It would also specifically impose a limit of $3,000 on how much they can use to “support or oppose candidates” in a specific electoral division.

While there would be no spending limit for leadership contests, the entry fee for candidates would have to be reasonably related to the cost of running the race.

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If passed, the new rules would not impact the current Progressive Conservative leadership contest or the Liberals’ leadership race, which is set to get underway in the spring. However, surplus funds will have to be returned to contributors.

Legislation passed by the NDP last year banned corporate and union donations to political parties.

Some opposition MLAs said while they agree it’s important to get big money out of politics, the government also has to level the playing field by putting some kind of cap on government ads heading into an election.

They said such ads, which boast of government achievements, serve as election propaganda that is paid for by the taxpayer.

“We have not seen anything on the government party advertisements, something that we have raised for a long time … particularly during byelections (where there are no restrictions on government ads),” Jason Nixon of the Wildrose party said.

“I don’t see anything that’s inherently unfair (in the bill),” David Swann of the Liberals said, adding he will also be pushing for restrictions on government ads.

-With files from The Canadian Press.

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