Braid: the debate on political financing foreshadows an American-style division


This conflict has implications beyond the existential political battle of Alberta.

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The UCP and the NDP have been fighting a battle for weeks over Bill 81, a massive bill with new rules for election financing.


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The fierce fight will likely come to some sort of conclusion on Tuesday as the bill heads for third reading.

The NDP is not just opposing the bill. Many UCP members are also unhappy with parts of Bill 81, although none have publicly opposed it.

Some of Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s opponents in the UCP believe it would open up a windfall for him at a leadership convention and help his allies win nominations.

Supporters of the bill, including UCP House leader Jason Nixon, argue the money is already there because the NDP authorized union PACs (political action committees) after winning in 2015.

Nixon, meanwhile, castigates Alberta Federation of Labor President Gil McGowan on the floor of the Legislature and promises to close “the AFL loophole.”


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This conflict has implications beyond the existential political battle of Alberta.

When a ruling party changes electoral rules to prepare for the next election, we move closer to naked American-style efforts to deny the other side any chance of winning.

A province cannot change its fundamental democratic standards every four years. There must be values ​​that endure beyond voting cycles.

Without confidence, the losers will soon call the elections twisted. We know where it is going.

The debate on Bill 81 has been downright nasty. It shows a complete deadlock on rules and intentions.

Thomas Dang, NDP Democracy and Ethics Critic, said, “Bill 81 will absolutely open the floodgates for big bucks. It will essentially allow illegal fundraising by removing any limit on donations to nomination contests and then funneling those contributions into party coffers.


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“Frankly, that would allow the leader, the Prime Minister in this case, to try to undermine the democratic system in his own party and in that of the government.

Bill 81 appears to allow unlimited contributions for party nomination campaigns. The surplus funds could then be kept for a general election – thereby bypassing the limits – or transferred to the central party.

The UCP also wants to abolish the quarterly public reports on fundraising for constituencies. There would only be one annual disclosure.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks at a press conference at the end of the UCP's Annual General Meeting on Sunday, November 21, 2021.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks at a press conference at the end of the UCP’s Annual General Meeting on Sunday, November 21, 2021. Photo by Gavin Young / Postmedia

The poor fundraising has been embarrassing for the UCP this year. Fewer reports would reduce this problem.

Further, the UCP does not believe that the Chief Electoral Officer should be involved at all in party nominations or leadership contests. Political parties are private organizations, they say; funding should only be public during election campaigns.


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The UCP’s case for Bill 81 mainly focuses on PACs and union bosses. There is no effort to tame hostile language or lessen the impact.

Kenney made this clear when he attacked NDP Leader Rachel Notley for “union working hours” when she criticized her summer vacation.

Nixon said delaying Bill 81 “would essentially break our promise to Albertans to close the AFL loophole.”

“I’ve heard a lot about it recently; a lot of correspondence on this subject asking us to continue in this direction and to fix the flaw in the AFL once and for all, ”he said.

“We must not forget that the AFL is affiliated with the New Democratic Party. It’s a fact. They are right there. You can’t argue with it. They are there. They can’t even deny it. . .

“Gil McGowan has a seat on their board of directors and has to. He’s their boss, Mr. Speaker. He’s their boss.

McGowan responded by saying that the UCP’s measures essentially make political criticism illegal.

Some amendments to Bill 81 are expected before a vote at third reading, not to appease the NDP, but to allay the concerns of some UCP members.

There could be a limit of $ 4,000 on those constituency contributions, for example.

Whatever happens, this nasty debate has not helped democracy in Alberta. It hurt him.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

Twitter: @DonBraid

Facebook: Don Braid Politics



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