Voters in Calgary-Varsity were surprised when a group called Fire Fighters for Alberta endorsed NDP candidate Anne McGrath on a handbill. But the handbill didn’t identify what party McGrath was running for or who the Fire Fighters for Alberta are.
On social media, the Alberta NDP also hailed the group’s support of the party, claiming a historic moment.
“Through new election laws, we had to create a third-party funded campaign strategy,” said Craig Macdonald, president of the Alberta Fire Fighters Association (AFFA), “and we came up with the concept for Fire Fighters for Alberta.”
“We’re typically a very politically involved political group,” the association president told Global News. “That’s the foundation of AFFA and our parent union the International Association of Fire Fighters. We’ve always worked in support of those that support us. We’ve certainly supported all parties — both sides of the table.”
The AFFA represents 17 local firefighters’ unions across the province, from Fort McMurray to Lethbridge, Grande Prairie to Medicine Hat.
“For the past three-and-a-half years, we’ve had an incredible working relationship with the current government,” Macdonald said.
“Coming into our fall legislative convention, we put out requests to meet with the parties that were going to go into the 2019 election. We had the opportunity to meet with the Alberta Party as well (at the) NDP, and unfortunately I didn’t get the same opportunity with the UCP.
“Through our leadership group, we had a number of meetings and we made the decision based on the amount of support we received for legislation that is important for our members.”
Macdonald was also named the chair of Fire Fighters for Alberta.
The Fire Fighters for Alberta website lists a number of positions on issues like continuing existing WCB coverage for firefighters, concerns over service levels in light of UCP-proposed tax cuts and being against “Right to Work” legislation they claim is anti-union legislation.
“We work in an inherently dangerous environment where don’t get to control the environment we go in to,” Macdonald said. “And a lot of legislation is surrounded around looking after our members in time of need when they are probably in the most unhealthy time of their life, including possibly dying of cancer.”
In January 2018, the NDP government announced expanded benefits for firefighters facing heightened cancer risks in their work, including two female-specific cancers.
According to contribution reports on the Elections Alberta website, Fire Fighters for Alberta has raised $61,712 between Dec. 1, 2018 and March 21, 2019. All of the donations were amounts greater than $250 and all were from the Alberta Fire Fighters Association.
According to the Third Party Advertiser Guide to the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act , the handbill and social media posts fit the definition of election advertising that TPAs can distribute.
“‘Election Advertising’ means advertising during an election advertising period that promotes or opposes a registered party or a registered candidate, including advertising that takes a position on an issue with which a registered party or registered candidate is associated,” the guide says.
Macdonald admits that not every firefighter in Alberta will vote NDP.
“We represent a very similar demographic to what we see in politics in Alberta, as a general rule,” the AFFA president said.
“What we have to do as elected leaders is represent what is important to our members, and we spend an enormous amount of time fielding questions and concerns from members in need.”
Part of Fire Fighters for Alberta’s goal is to educate AFFA union members.
“Certainly there are those who support (the NDP) and those that don’t support. It would be our goal to convince our membership to, number one, vote — elections are important. Number two, go into the election informed — understand the issues that you are voting on and, ultimately, as a professional firefighter, understand the issues that are important to you and to your family.”