Calgary’s next municipal election campaign is expected to see a large presence of third-party campaigns.
Though it’s still 11 months away, the first third-party group to join the city’s political landscape, Calgary’s Future, launched its campaign on Tuesday.
Calgary’s Future, branded as an advocacy group for everyday Calgarians, is urging residents to reach out to their local elected representative and speak out ahead of next week’s municipal budget deliberations.
Rev. Anna Greenwood-Lee, part of the team who represents the third-party group, said Calgary’s Future would be raising up candidates but also asking candidates tough questions regarding their stance on various city issues like transit, the climate resiliency plan, and the city’s smart city approach.
“We need people who can cooperate, who can stop the bickering and the infighting and the nonsense, quite frankly, that you see at city council,” Rev. Greenwood-Lee said. “We need people who can really work together and help this city be stronger and grow stronger.”
First third-party group to register, but likely not the last
Lori Williams, a professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, said she is expecting more involvement from third-party campaigns in the upcoming civic election through television and radio ads, social media campaigns, signage and robo-calls.
“If (third-party campaigns) are well organized, if they have a particular agenda, they can try to forward or advance that agenda, which could provide information to help voters to make a decision,” Williams said. “But it could also skew information that it distorts reality.”
As of Tuesday, Calgary’s Future is the only third-party advertiser registered through Elections Calgary with others like Save Calgary and Take Back City Hall expected to register and be actively involved in the election campaign period, which begins on May 1, 2021.
Concerns over funding
In response to the news of the launch of Calgary’s Future, Ward 7 city councillor Druh Farrell said she welcomes any group that intends to promote active democracy, but has some concern about the financial backing of other third-party groups.
“We see a lot of apathy when it comes to especially civic politics, and it impacts people in a profound way, we deliver most of the services you use every single day; so anything that gets people involved is a great idea,” Farrell told Global News.
“I am, however, very concerned about the continued use of big money in civic campaigns.”
According to Calgary’s Future’s website, it is supported by local labour organizations.
Under new legislation introduced by the province, third-party advertisers are now allowed to spend up to $500,000 on an issue, and financial statements would only be required to provide an audited financial statement to the chief electoral officer if they spend more than $350,000.
Earlier this month, Alberta’s provincial government also tabled Bill 45, which would bring more proposed changes to the Local Authorities Election Act.
Although the legislation already saw changes earlier this year which allowed for an individual donation limit of $5,000 to candidates in municipal and school board elections, the new proposed changes would see the limit on donations to third-party advertiser groups capped at $30,000 per donor.
Provincial rules state that corporate and union donations to candidates are banned, but they can donate to third-party groups.
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi has penned a letter to the province’s municipal affairs minister, which outlined his concerns with changes to the legislation.
“Alberta’s municipal elections should be about who has the best ideas, not who has the most money,” Nenshi wrote. “The $30,000 limit is arbitrary and doesn’t restrict anything. It does the opposite, opening local democracy to dark money.”
“Please fix this,” was handwritten at the end of Nenshi’s letter.
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs said the changes would keep elections fair for Albertans.
“Currently, third party advertisers have no limit, so for example an organization could donate a million dollars to a third party advertiser or Political Action Committee (PAC),” ministry spokesperson Justin Marshall said in a statement to Global News. “We believe elections are for Albertans and should be decided by Albertans. It was also a promise we made during the last election to cap third-party contributions, and with this legislation, we are keeping that promise.”
The provincial rules also state that financial disclosures for candidates and third parties won’t be released until March 1 following the election; prior rules had financial disclosures released prior to election day.
“People could have a better idea of where particular candidates were drawing their support,” Williams said. “Without that information prior to election day, its much more difficult to identify the kinds of organizations that are supporting a candidate.”
But for Rev. Greenwood-Lee, the aim for Calgary’s Future is to encourage Calgarians to get involved in municipal politics and have their voice heard.
“Pay attention to the budget next week, pay attention to municipal politics,” she said. “It affects so much of our day to day lives.”