Alberta Politics
Justice Minister Kaycee Madu at yesterday’s news conference to introduce changes to Alberta’s election financing legislation (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

UCP bill will allow big money and dark money back into election financing, restrict free speech rights, NDP Opposition says

Posted on November 05, 2021, 1:30 am
8 mins

Alberta’s United Conservative Party introduced new election financing legislation yesterday that appears likely to allow big money and dark money to start flowing back into provincial politics as well as restricting the free speech rights of groups that disagree with the government.

So it seems on brand for the UCP to headline its press release on the topic with a statement the “new legislation would strengthen democracy by getting big money out of Alberta politics and establishing a set election date.” (Emphasis added.)

NDP MLA Thomas Dang assailed the changes as an effort to bring dark money back into Alberta politics (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But how much worse Bill 81, the Election Statutes Amendment Act, will actually make things remains to be seen. Figuring that out will require some thoughtful analysis that no one is likely to be able to produce immediately after the text of the bill was published.

Bill 81 is one of a number of new laws introduced by the UCP to keep a few promises to its friends, but mainly to look busy and distract attention from the Kenney Government’s appalling mishandling of COVID-19, its poor economic record, and the scandals that seem to crop up almost weekly. 

Grafting an American-style fixed election date onto Canada’s constitutionally entrenched Westminster style Parliamentary system will certainly make fund-raising easier for parties that appeal to the big corporations that have largely captured this province’s government and regulatory regime. 

But how it’s supposed to “make Alberta’s elections fairer and more modern,” as Justice Minister Kaycee Madu claimed when introducing the bill yesterday afternoon, may forever remain a mystery. 

Be that as it may, Alberta elections will now be held on the last Monday in May every four years – unless they’re not, which will be entirely up to the government of the day. So change, but no change. 

As for banning foreign money from Alberta election campaigns, that might have sounded like a great idea to go with an inquiry into citizens exercising their free speech rights about the oilsands back in the UCP’s heyday two years ago, but now it just seems like the proverbial solution in search of a problem. 

Leastways, the big money that has lately influenced Alberta elections didn’t come from foreign sources, at least not without first being laundered through their local corporate subsidiaries and think tanks.

The NDP’s reaction to the bill was harsh. Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang charged “this bill allows the UCP to run their next election on illegal money.”

“It’s no wonder why,” Mr. Dang told his own afternoon news conference. “This is a party that is sinking in the polls, having trouble getting donations from ordinary Albertans, and that has a history of resorting to shady, underhanded practices in both election campaigns and leadership campaigns.”

Mr. Dang’s argument hinged on provisions that will relieve constituency associations from the obligation to report quarterly fund-raising totals, and remove nomination candidates from contributions limits now in the law. “This means potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars from big donors sneaking into party coffers through nomination contests,” he said. “There could also be multiple, illegal donations to UCP constituency associations as this bill will allow donations to be hidden for months after a general election.”

It may also result in the NDP always appearing to raise more money that the UCP – setting a narrative that doesn’t necessarily help the UCP. Call this a small own-goal by the drafters of the bill. 

Mr. Dang also assailed provisions banning groups “affiliated” with political parties from political advertising by not allowing them to register as third-party advertisers with Elections Alberta. 

This is intended to close what Premier Jason Kenney has called “the AFL Loophole,” an act of political revenge for past campaigns against the government by the Alberta Federation of Labour. 

But while the AFL may be mentioned in the NDP’s constitution, the NDP isn’t named in the AFL’s. It’s hard to see how this will survive the inevitable court challenge. 

In the meantime, some of the wording of the legislation seems too bizarre to have been composed by the Government of Alberta’s competent lawyers. 

Its definition of “affiliated” is very broad. It includes “the extent to which the third party has been involved in electoral campaigns or made public statements in support of or in opposition to the registered party, a registered candidate of the registered party, any other registered party or a registered candidate of any other registered party.”

Say what? Does this mean you can’t register as a third-party advertiser if you express disagreement with the policies of the governing party? Sounds like it. 

After all, it leaves enforcement up to Elections Alberta, an office of the Legislature whose neutrality is nowadays subject to some uncertainty. 

Other changes in the legislation include: 

  • Employers will now get to choose when their employees get time off to vote.
  • The spending limit for political parties will be raised to about $3.4 million from the current $2 million, hurting the chances of smaller parties on the right that might drain votes from the UCP. 
  • Audited financial statements will no longer be required if revenue and expenses of a registered party are less than $25,000 – up from the current level of $1,000.
  • A $30,000 donation limit to third-party advertisers by a person or group.

Other legislation introduced yesterday included a “red tape reduction” bill that, among other things, will ease some traditional rules on the consumption of alcohol. Warning: you may soon be served homemade hooch at a wedding reception! 

One imagines that Bill 80’s promise to address Human Rights Commission complaints more quickly will not work out well for citizens who actually have legitimate complaints.

Bill 82, the Mineral Resource Development Act, according to the government’s cheerful press release, “will help capitalize on Alberta’s potential to become a preferred international producer and supplier of minerals and mineral products such as lithium, uranium, vanadium, rare earth elements, potash, and diamonds.”

Does this actually mean anything? Too soon to say. 

13 Comments to: UCP bill will allow big money and dark money back into election financing, restrict free speech rights, NDP Opposition says

  1. tom

    November 5th, 2021

    Is there anything in there about opening up the province during a pandemic to fundraise under the pretence of holding a rodeo?

    Reply
  2. Abs

    November 5th, 2021

    If this is intended as a distraction from scandals that have beset the UCP, perhaps it is time for a reminder that several UCP MLAs donated to the election campaign of Sean Chu, Calgary city councillor. Also, those same donors call Sean Chu “friend”, and routinely posed for photos with him in the before times. A well-known Calgary female MP withdrew support for Sean Chu after further details of the sexual assault scandal broke. As for the UCP, not so much. Leela Aheer spoke out. Male UCP MLAs? Meh. Check Twitter for recent updates on #ResignSeanChu.

    That was before the allegations by Ariella Kimmel became public. I’m sensing a pattern here. How long until the next scandal? They’re popping up like Whack-a-Mole. I’m waiting….

    Reply
    • Abs

      November 5th, 2021

      Devin Dreeshan has resigned his cabinet post. Wonders never cease. Now on to Sean Chu and all those cabinet minister who support him.

      Reply
  3. Athabascan

    November 5th, 2021

    ….aaaand this is why it doesn’t matter how much the NDP have raised so far. Only the UCP has access to dark money, and that pile of cash is inexhaustible. The NDP cannot compete with that. What do you all think Harper is doing in the US anyway?

    The far right doesn’t play by the same rules the rest of us do. That’s why they win elections. Oh, and by the way, how’s that RCMP investigation into the Kamikaze campaign going?

    Reply
  4. Dave

    November 5th, 2021

    I suppose we have reached the phase in the faltering UCP’s governing cycyle, where if the system no longer seems to work for you electorally, try and change it. Perhaps in a lucid moment Dreeshen explained to his colleagues this is how Trump and his gang approach it in the US. So we have a grab bag of confusing measures here, although I suspect for the UCP the confusion is a feature not a bug as they are never much for transparency. For example, just try find out what advise Dr. Hinshaw gave to Kenney or other UCP ministers.

    Some of these proposals are a small unnecessary step backward, like the fixed (but flexible) election date to replace the flexible, fixed election dates. Some are worrying, but could be fixed, like the removal of quarterly reporting for constituency associations. If a low cap of say $1,000 in revenue and expenses was put in that would reduce the burden on inactive associations, while not providing a backdoor to funnel money in. Heck, the UCP actually seems to have a lot of these inactive associations right now – probably not a good sign for them.

    The most concerning is the tilted regulation of third party spending. Election rules equally restrict union and corporate contributions, so logically and fairly if you want to have restrictions on third party spending they should apply similarly. If the UCP wants to go down this path, then rules on association should also apply to corporate shareholders, directors, officers and senior executives and any of those associated who take positions of partisan political support. Of course, the UCP wont do this, because this is only about tilting the rules in their favour.

    The UCP has seen its decline of political support also badly affect its direct fundraising from individuals. So, the plan here seems to give more leeway to PAC’s who have access to corporate money, but restrict those that don’t. It is a very American idea on political spending and the US approach to this is one big part of why their political system is so broken. Lets not go down this path further.

    Reply
  5. Just Me

    November 5th, 2021

    Now that the hard-drinkin, hard-luvin, MAGA hat wearing Devin Dreesen has decided that cowardice is the better part of being a complete idiot and left the cabinet, the distractions from the UCP are blowing out in abundance.

    With the election reform legislation, which is nothing more than a means for the UCP to raise money outside of their base of naive and guilt-ridden elderly donors, that they have relied on for so long, ‘dark money’ returns to Alberta politics with a vengence. At this point, I wonder why the O & G industry just doesn’t start their own political party, which will promote a platform that proposes the banning of EVs, electrical appliances, and all electrical lighting, in favour of anything and anything that’s uses some kind of fossil fuel. Climate Change be damned. Quebec is Satan. Texas is Jerusalem. COVID is just a little annoying. Oh, yes, DEATH IS NORMAL. Brett Wilson can be premier and govern via Tweet. Oh, and day drinking will be great again. (#DDGA)

    And, of course, Madu closed his announcement with “God bless the gifts of Alberta…BLAH. BLAH. BLAH.” This guy sounds like he’s going to need divine intervention to save his seat, given his success in failing upwards.

    Reply
    • Anon

      November 5th, 2021

      Are far right groups applauding Madu’s election financing innovations? I’m sure that like Tracy Allard, much surprise will be expressed when the forces of social disintegration they have pandered to turn on them.

      Reply
  6. Just Me

    November 5th, 2021

    Wow.

    Kenney has admitted to drinking in the workplace, nor does he object. Drinking should be “mature” in the workplace, according to Kenney.

    Ooooooookaaaaaay.

    The special meeting of chiefs of staff seems to indicate that something’s afoot.

    Kenney has expressed in his policies and beliefs that the period from the 1850s to the 1950s was the best and everyone should live like that again.

    Mad men, indeed.

    Reply
  7. Scotty on DENMAN

    November 5th, 2021

    Gaming the system was supposed to affect a neoCon makeover, back when conservatives viewed eggheaded social scientists as gaming the system that had hitherto sustained corporate and white privilege for so long—that is, right-wing think tanks were supposed to even up the balance the same way that giving biblical creationism equal time in science classrooms is considered “fair” by SoCons. However, instead of a Tory makeover, it turned into a neoliberal takeover of, thence, nominally conservative political parties.

    The takeover worked for 20 years as voters awaited the promised “trickledown”, but when that didn’t happen this neo-right movement made a subtle strategic switch from duping voters with abused statistics (Twain’s third kind of lie) supposed to match academia’s science, to gaming government systems. At first, it was just that, not technically illegal but somewhat disingenuous. Is that all the UCP is doing with its new election-financing legislation?

    But the UCP should know where that leads, its leader, after all, having been an MP in the federal CPC—that very same CPC which applied the political equivalent of Hamburger Helper to solve its perennial popularity problems, and which probably contributed to terminating its first and last majority government.

    Psephological shenanigans definitely cross an ethical line when not-technically-illegal systems-gaming fails to stem an unethical government’s decline in popularity. tRumpublicanism has made voting irregularity an overt threat to US democracy —even though none has been found in the 2020 US presidential election (tRump propagates the Big Lie that it was rigged against him, but that’s not technically illegal—at least so far as has been determined: but he is being investigated for trying to convince a Georgia electoral official to pad his votes to one more than Biden got). tRump has inadvertently raised awareness of the kind of voter suppression tactics used against coloured Americans who, by and large, don’t vote for the GOP; these tactics have been in place for a long time but started coming to the fore in 2008 when Blacks were encouraged to vote in greater numbers when Obama ran successfully for president, in 2018 midterms when Black voters were indispensable in taking back the House of Representatives and, of course, in the 2020 election when Covid protocols allowed for mass mail-in voting, relieving Blacks of vote suppressing tactics only effective at designated voting places (like long lineups and shaking people down for unpaid parking tickets).

    Twenty years ago, the sanctity of elections, such as they were in the USA, was challenged for the first time in living memory when Bush Jr, a friendly Florida judge, and defective voting machines assigned to the state’s Black neighbourhoods gave the GOP candidate a win he didn’t deserve. A decade later, tRump tapped into white resentment of the first Black US President by propagating the “birther” lie that Obama wasn’t a US citizen in order to delegitimize his presidency on the eve of his successful, 2012 incumbency campaign. Defamatory, perhaps, underhanded, definitely, but not technically illegal. As proxy for globalizing neoliberals —known as neo-rightists when zombifying traditional conservative parties—tRump’s coattails, although pursuing his purely personal celebrity objective, supplied a convenient lift for the moribund, unscrupulous neo-right. Plus he gave them a handsome tax break (as if they needed it), courtesy the American people (who do need it).

    Peevishness comes naturally to Canadian politician’s of the right, especially when shown up, whence it morphs into righteous indignation. When PM Chrétien called and won snap election, catching Reform-a-CRAP-a-Con Opposition leader Stockwell Day with his pants down and totally unprepared, the right went ballistic, even though the early election was perfectly legitimate (as a result, right-wing governments across the country imposed fixed terms so, they claimed, politicians couldn’t “play politics” in the place we pay them to do just that; fixed terms are incompatible with our Westminster system of parliamentary confidence and many have been trumped by this fact). In contrast to the wily Chrétien, Harper cobbled the CPC together by way of treachery when the last federal ProgCon leader betrayed his party’s wishes and joined it with the HarperCons. Psephological treachery is a thread that ran through the HarperCon regime from beginning to end, so it’s unsurprising that his protege, Alberta premier Kenney, would resort to it, particularly in the straits he finds himself, a riptide of personality and circumstances.

    Recall that Opposition leader Harper attempted to bribe Independent MP Chuck Cadman into using his balance of power vote to topple the Martin minority (Cadman, who was dying of Cancer at the time, refused; what Harper did is actually illegal, but hard to prove after Cadman died not much later, and especially after Harper offered Cadman’s widow the nomination for the safe CPC seat her husband’s death left vacant); after winning only a second minority in 2008, Harper brought parliament to the brink of constitutional crisis by bullying the GG into allowing him a prorogation in order to avoid a confidence vote his government would have lost (the three opposition leaders had already committed to forming a government to the GG but she decided —no reasons given—not to let the confidence vote proceed); the height of CPC popularity was on Election Day, 2011 (about 41%), yet it was subsequently revealed that numerous violations of electoral financing and campaigning rules helped achieve it; in 2013, Harper’s parliamentary secretary was convicted and eventually jailed for election financing fraud during the 2008 election; even after investigations and fines for misinforming robocalls, the “in-and-out” scam, and other dirty tricks (not to mention Pierre Pollievre’s highly suspect “Fair Elections” Act), the party continued to game the system by arranging the longest campaign period in modern Canadian history and barring non-supporters and reporters from indoor campaign rallies (both in order to manage potential bad news from the concurrent trial of a CPC Senator). Jason Kenney, naturally, was right there in the thick of it, although it wouldn’t be until he entered Alberta provincial politics that any suspicion landed on him personally (particularly the so-called “Kamikaze campaign” deployed to beggar his rival for leadership of the new UCP, Brian Jean).

    What’s so galling is the right’s equivocating attitude that it’s fair to game the system or cheat in order to win—and as we see in the USA, to rationalize such by believing with all their tiny, hateful, virtue-signalling, dog-whistling hearts that their partisan rivals are not really compatriots—or even much human. Again we marvel at the lockstep which K-Boy follows tRumpublicanism. No wonder he’s so unpopular—but, of course, that’s all the excuse he needs.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    November 8th, 2021

    The UCP are good at playing games to attempt to distract Albertans from their horrible leadership. Anything goes with them.

    Reply
    • Mahmoud Ali

      November 15th, 2021

      Mr Larson, I followed your link and was surprised to find that your example in fact proved nothing at all. The local truck driver was a Republican candidate, not a Democrat. Am i expected to believe that union money was behind a Republican win? I think you would agree that if money was behind the win a good portion of it would likely be corporate money.

      Reply

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