Blog | December 06, 2012

By James Wood, Calgary HeraldCALGARY — The Tory government has pushed through new election financing legislation despite opposition protests that the legislation falls far short of much-needed reforms to Alberta politics.But proponents of broader changes believe there is now growing momentum in the province for tougher measures such as lower donation limits or a ban on corporate and union contributions.Bill 7, which passed Wednesday, includes 90 recommended changes from chief electoral officer Brian Fjeldheim.It requires Elections Alberta to disclose details of investigations into election law violations dating back three years, establishes rules for party leadership campaigns, mandates quarterly reporting for parties and requires disclosure of donors who contribute $250 or more, compared to $375 under the current rules.But late Tuesday evening, the Wildrose Party, Liberals and NDP brought forward 24 amendments that went down to defeat at the hands of the Progressive Conservative government.“It leaves Alberta with some of the weakest election financing laws in the country,” said Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw on Wednesday.Among the Wildrose amendments were a prohibition on corporate and union donations, a requirement for disclosure of violations going back seven years, and a clause outlining that contributors cannot make a donation with another person’s money — something the government dismissed as already existing in legislation.An NDP amendment called for the current donation limit of $15,000 — $30,000 in an election year — to be lowered to $3,000.PC Justice Minister Jonathan Denis said the government felt it was important to stick as close as possible to Fjeldheim’s recommendations, which did not include calls for a corporate donation ban or a decrease in the contribution limit.“I see no reason to change the current system,” he said in an interview. “The philosophy is to increase disclosure…the system is better dealt with by having a system that reports.”Since last year, Elections Alberta has received scores of complaints about illegal political donations made by public bodies such as municipalities and school boards to the long-governing PCs. Also hanging over the government’s head is a $300,000 donation to the Tories made by billionaire Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz, his family, friends, colleagues and companies during the spring election campaign.Wildrose only recently joined the Liberals and NDP in calling for restricting union and corporate donations and a lower contribution limit, in its case, $5,000.Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta, an advocacy group, believes such calls are a sign Alberta will eventually follow the lead of Ottawa and other provinces that have put such measures in place. The province should also introduce spending limits on campaigns, he said.“If all three of those things were brought in, that would help in the levelling of the playing field and take the influence of big money out of the democratic process,” said Moore-Kilgannon.While the Election Accountability Amendment Act drew fire from the opposition parties, it has also raised the ire of Mayor Naheed Nenshi.The bill addresses some municipal issues — such as introducing four-year terms for municipal councils — but does not deal with what Nenshi says are glaring problems in municipal election financing.He wanted a lower limit on donations than the current $5,000, a set period for raising money and a provision that would require surpluses in campaign funds to go to a municipality or charity.Currently, they can be carried over in a trust account for candidates to use in a future campaign.“We’re still going to have a situation where it’s much easier for incumbents and much more difficult for challengers,” said Nenshi.By James Wood, Calgary [email protected]This article was published in the Calgary Herald on December 6, 2012. Read the full article on the Calgary Herald website.