Should political donations from corporations and unions be banned in Alberta?

EDMONTON – The debate over banning corporate and union donations to political parties and candidates has heated up after controversies around donations at the municipal and provincial levels emerged here in Alberta.

Just days ago, Global Calgary exclusively revealed footage showing a Calgary developer talking to other developers about donations to city councillors.

The video comes on the heels of a year full of debate over donations.

An allegation that Oilers owner Daryl Katz donated $430,000 to the Alberta PCs in one cheque is being investigated.

The Alberta Elections Act prohibits single donations (by any person, corporation, trade union or employee organization) larger than $30,000 to registered political parties, constituency associations, or candidates during any campaign period.

On Thursday, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) released emails it says show a group of construction companies tried to gain access to the premier through donations.

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“What these documents show is that very influential people from major construction companies, in one case the CEO of the largest construction company in the province, have asked for specific legislative changes seemingly in exchange for political donations and political support,” said Gil McGowan, president of the AFL.

“I’m really troubled if people say this is OK and this is the way things are done in Alberta because that doesn’t speak well for democracy in Alberta if this is just standard operating procedure.”

“That’s rich coming from them, because the AFL of course, made significant donations to the NDP,” remarked Human Services Minister Dave Hancock.

“That’s ridiculous. Money has never bought public policy,” he added.

He said all parties are being consulted through a mediator on possible labour law changes and any new policy will be open for broad discussion before being implemented.

However, the conversation has some wondering whether the entire issue could be put to bed by banning union and corporate donations.

“As long as it’s a level playing field we’re happy to support that kind of legislation,” said McGowan.

A ban is a hot topic in British Columbia’s provincial election. Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Quebec all have bans in place.  The City of Toronto has also banned corporate and union donations to government.

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In Alberta, the NDP, Liberals, and the Wildrose all support enacting a ban.

However, the ruling PCs, do not.

“When you talk about banning corporate donations, what you’re really saying is that there some forms of the… way people organize their lives that are not legitimate,” said Hancock. “I think people should be able to organize their lives the way they want to, and if it’s more convenient for them to contribute through their company than personally, I don’t have a problem with that.”

According to numbers from last year’s election campaign, of donations greater than $375:

–     65 per cent of the PC party’s came from corporations

–     39 per cent of the Wildrose party’s came from corporations

–     39 per cent of the NDP’s came from unions.

The only way to ban corporate and union donations on the provincial level is through the legislature.  However, the chief electoral officer first has to make the recommendation to do so in his or her annual report.

The last Chief Electoral Officer, Brian Fjeldheim, didn’t recommend a ban. Fjeldheim retired this week. A new one has yet to be appointed.

With files from Vassy Kapelos


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