Schweitzer confirms government planning electoral reforms for Alberta, says some groups currently face ‘immense amount of scrutiny’

Click to play video 'Alberta justice minister answers questions about plans for electoral reform' Alberta justice minister answers questions about plans for electoral reform
WATCH ABOVE: At a news conference about the use of photo radar in Alberta on Tuesday, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer was asked questions about whether his government plans to bring in changes to election financing rules. – Nov 26, 2019

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer confirmed to reporters on Tuesday that the UCP government plans to introduce electoral reforms in the new year but did not confirm or deny a report suggesting the government was possibly considering scrapping elements of Alberta’s election finance act.

“Right now, we’re working on a broader package of electoral reform — we intend on bringing forward different ideas in 2020,” Schweitzer said when asked to comment on a CBC report about the prospective changes.

According to the report, a lawyer for Alberta Justice was recently speaking at a court hearing to do with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s challenge of a fine it received for failing to register as a third-party advertiser, when he said there was no point in continuing the case because the government plans to either “rescind or amend part of the election finance act.”

A reporter asked Schweitzer for details about the changes his government intends to bring in, and whether they include lifting the cap on political donations.

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“No, that’s not in the cards right now,” he said.

“I don’t want to speculate and presuppose as to what the remainder of it will be.”

Schweitzer went on to talk about groups in the province that he believes “are provided with an immense amount of scrutiny.”

“You talk to our constituency associations as well, there’s an immense amount of burden that’s placed at the local level,” he said. “These are volunteer-driven organizations that quite often, sometimes only have $5,000 or $10,000 in the bank.

“We’re taking a look at that and we’re listening to Albertans as well and we’ll have a package next year to bring forward.”

Official Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said she is concerned by the CBC report.

“It appears this government intends to be bringing in laws that would support and perhaps even eliminate the need for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and others to contest the laws that our government brought in that were designed to take foreign money and corporate money and union money out of our elections,” she said.

“It seems that for Jason Kenney, firing the… [elections] commissioner and abusing power and interfering in ongoing investigations is not enough.”

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

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

Last week, the government passed Bill 22 which terminated the elections commissioner’s contract and has his office’s responsibilities shift to the Chief Electoral Officer’s office.

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Critics have blasted the government for the move because the commissioner had been investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the 2017 UCP leadership race, which saw Kenney win before going on to become premier, and had already levied over $200,000 in fines in connection with a so-called kamikaze campaign targeting Kenney’s closest rival in the race.

The government has said the Chief Electoral Officer is free to have someone investigate the leadership race if they choose to do so.

READ MORE: Bill 22 passes 3rd reading at Alberta legislature; ethics commissioner cannot ‘delay proceedings

Click to play video 'Alberta bill that terminates position of man investigating UCP party passes' Alberta bill that terminates position of man investigating UCP party passes
Alberta bill that terminates position of man investigating UCP party passes – Nov 21, 2019

“We’re moving back to where dollars are going to have the biggest impact on how people vote,” Notley said.

“It’s a system that modern democracies are moving away from except in Alberta where we are doing everything we can to go backwards because that’s what helps Jason Kenney stay in power.”

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Notley also indicated she found it hypocritical that the UCP could be considering changes that she believes would allow for more foreign-funded groups playing a role in elections while at the same time investigating how environmental groups are funded.

READ MORE: Kenney government launches inquiry into foreign-funded groups that criticize Alberta’s oil industry

Click to play video 'Alberta premier launches $2.5-million inquiry into oil opponents' Alberta premier launches $2.5-million inquiry into oil opponents
Alberta premier launches $2.5-million inquiry into oil opponents – Jul 5, 2019

“Albertans were very clear that they want big money out of politics and it is incredibly ironic that we would have a whole panel that Jason Kenney has set up to investigate so-called foreign-funded influencers while at the same time they are looking at changing laws that would enable more foreign-funded influencers.”

A statement from an Alberta Justice spokesperson stated it is “completely normal for a government to periodically review election laws.”

“We will of course consult broadly on any changes,” Jonah Mozeson said in statement Wednesday.