During the 2015 election campaign, both the Wildrose and NDP ran with a promise to ban all corporate and union donations to political parties. It’s an admirable piece of legislation, and it should be no surprise that this promise has translated into Bill 1, the first bill tabled by the new government. As donation laws stood before, individuals, unions and corporations were permitted to donate up to $15,000 to a political party in a single year and $1,000 to a constituency association, up to a maximum of $5,000 to constituency associations per party per year. In a campaign period, these amounts are doubled. The PC’s had the largest percentage of donations from unions and corporations, the NDP were a distant second, and the Wildrose had the lowest percentage of these donations. While it’s clear that some parties have more to gain from this than others, it remains an admirable piece of legislation that all parties would be wise to support. With all of the above said, I take a number of issues with Bill 1. There are a number of other things that should have been included in this bill, or that remain unaddressed in the text of Bill 1.
First and foremost, this bill does not address municipal politics. Unions and corporations have a lot to gain from donating to municipal campaigns, and there is plenty of room for bribery in order to secure development or maintenance contracts. In the month of September 2013, leading up to the municipal election that October, eventual Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson received 33 donations between $3,500.01 and $5,000. Of these 33 donations, 29 were made by corporations. Three of the other four were personal donations from developers. The majority of these same corporations and individuals also donated to Karen Leibovici’s campaign. This makes it quite clear that these developers were making attempts to get into the good books of the Edmonton mayoral candidates. In St. Albert, a suburb of Edmonton, unions played a very large part in the re-election of Mayor Nolan Crouse. The Edmonton District Labour Council made a small financial contribution, which is all that was reported in Crouse’s funding documents. What wasn’t noted in these documents was the massive amount of “in kind” assistance given to Crouse by the EDLC. One St. Albert City Councillor described to me how Crouse had a number of campaigners going door to door in St. Albert that didn’t even reside in the City of St. Albert.
On that note, another issue with Bill 1 is that it does not address these “in kind” donations. The NDP has used paid union workers on their campaigns at both the federal and the provincial levels for a long time. These paid workers are off the books, both as NDP staffers and as union donations. Two questions worth addressing on this are, 1) “Why are these donations allowed to fly under the radar?” and 2) ”Why aren’t these donations being banned along with monetary donations?”. These “in kind” donations not only circumvent existing rules, but even further infringe on the new rules laid out in Bill 1. One would suspect that the NDP has no intention on legislating on “in kind” donations because they stand the most to gain from these donations.
Finally, there is the issue of donation limits. As I mentioned earlier in this article, donations are capped at $15,000 per political party in a single year and $1,000 to a constituency association, up to a maximum of $5,000 to constituency associations per party per year, with these amounts doubling during a campaign. These limits open loopholes for unions and corporations to continue making political donations under the names of their leadership. Realistically, it wouldn’t be difficult for an organization to hand out a “bonus” to individuals, which would then be donated to the political party of the union or corporation’s choice. Federally, individuals are only permitted to donate $1,200 per year to each registered political party. A further $1,200 is permitted for each candidate in any given election campaign. $1,200 is also the limit for contribution to a leadership candidate’s campaign. The NDP would be wise to amend Bill 1 to include these contribution limits, as it would make it much more difficult for a union or corporation to circumvent donation laws, and would make it much more obvious when an attempt is made to circumvent these laws.
Bill 1, as it stands, is a good start for the new government, but they should seriously consider proposing the above amendments in order to ensure true electoral reform in Alberta. Amendments such as the ones listed above would be a true test of just how committed Rachel Notley and the NDP truly are to electoral reform. Will they make such amendments? I question whether they will. Only time will answer that question. This writer hopes that the opposition Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives will propose these amendments and push the NDP government to approve them. For now, Albertans can only sit and watch.
The entirety of Bill 1 can be viewed here.
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