Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Alberta Political Power Trumps the Interests of Albertans

Alberta Legislature building in Edmonton
On November 20th, 2012, the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party (PC Party) tabled new election laws called the Election Accountability Amendment Act. Ironically, Redford the PC Party leader and premier of Alberta is on record saying that there is nothing wrong with Alberta's election laws. However, in amidst of the public disclosure of Darly Katz and his family and associates $430,000 political contributions close to the end of the 2012 Alberta Election (and the fact that Katz has two multi-million projects before the Alberta government), the PC Party felt it was necessary to make some amendments to Alberta election law.

The Election Accountability Amendment Act proposes the following reforms:

1. Reveal publicly the names of person who are convicted of making illegal electoral contributions over a three year period. However, this provision is not retroactive.

2. Fines for breaches of the Alberta election law are increased from $1,000 to a maximum of $10,000 for individuals.

3. The Alberta election law applies to both general elections and party leadership contests.

4. Anonymous contributions are now capped at $250 as opposed to $350.

5. Electoral finances of parties will now be reported quarterly rather than just annually.

Items 1, 4, and 5 deal with transparency. The electoral finances of Alberta parties are already transparent to the public, so the transparency will become more transparent. However, transparency is a neutral element in the process/law, because transparency is only as good as the laws on what is being transparent about.

Item 2 does nothing to address the weak enforcement provisions in Alberta election law. For examples, corporations face fines of only $10,000, and there are no prison sentences for violations of Alberta election law. In contrast, Quebec has fines of over $200,000 for violations of election law and prison sentences of 1 year or more. In the United States at the federal level of government there are 5 year prison sentences for violations of federal election law, and a progressive sentencing process based on a number factors including the severity of the violation.

Item 4 helps reduce electoral finance wrongdoing, but in the FDA's opinion the cap of $250 is still too high. In Quebec the cap on anonymous contributions is zero dollars, and in the United States at the federal level of government, the cap on anonymous contributions is $50.

Overall, the changes to the election law by the PC Party are cosmetic, and do nothing to address severe deficiencies in the law. To put this in context, in 2012 the FDA completed an audit of electoral finance law of Canada's ten provinces, and Alberta received the lowest score of 47.7 percent out of 100 percent. The score measures the fairness of electoral finance law. In another 2012 FDA audit, Alberta's provincial electoral system received an unacceptable passing score of 54 percent (which borders a failed state). In an identical audit, the United States federal electoral system with all its problems received a higher score of 54.5 percent. Redford and the PC Party has ignored both of these reports on Alberta.

The main deficiencies of the Alberta provincial electoral system which the ruling PC Party has failed to address are as followings:

1. Alberta has excessive cap on contributions to political parties in an election year of $30,000 and $15,000 in a non-election year. Using Alberta's per capita income level of $35,250 (Statistics Canada, 2011), the FDA believes a significantly more fair cap would be about 10 percent of the per capita income level, which translates into a cap of 3,500 in election years and $2,000 in non-election years. Quebec with a per capita income level of around $27,000 has a cap on contributions at $1,000. In the United States, individual contributions are capped at $2,500 to candidates and parties.

2. Alberta does not ban corporations and labor unions from making contributions. Both Quebec and the United States at the federal government ban contributions from corporations and trade unions to candidates and parties.

3. Alberta has no expenditure limit on campaigns. Nova Scotia, Canada federally, Quebec, and Manitoba as examples all have campaign expenditure limits.

4. Alberta has an excessive cap on contributions to third-parties. Again the cap of $30,000 to third-parties is not reflective of Alberta's per capita income.

5. Alberta has weak enforcement mechanisms of election law. For example, the maximum fine is $10,000 and there are no prison sentences. What is $10,000 to a corporation or individual worth in the millions and even billions? Quebec and the United States have fines in the one hundred thousand plus range and prison sentences.

6. Alberta has no regulation of the media during the campaign period. Presently, in the daily press there is severe ownership concentration issues with Post Media Corporation owning over 65 percent of the daily press market. Norway and France cap ownership concentration at 30 percent. The remedy to this situation for Alberta is to have ownership concentration laws or a code of media conduct during election which supports broad and balanced campaign coverage of all registered parties.

Overall, Alberta's election deficiences favor special and minority interests.

The PC Party's amendment of Alberta election law represents a political maneuver to appease public discontent. But as illustrated above, the amendments have very little substance and avoid the severe deficiencies in the Alberta election process. Unfortunately, it appears that the PC Party is more interested in hanging onto its political power, rather than doing what is in the interests of all Albertans.

Alberta Bill Fails to Clarify Rules on Single Large Political Donations

For more details of the deficiency of the Alberta electoral system, please see the following reports:

FDA Media Advisory on Canadian Provinces Electoral Finances

2012 FDA Audit Report on the Alberta Electoral System

FDA Media Advisory on the Alberta Media

Mr. Stephen Garvey, Foundation for Democratic Advancement, Executive Director

Question to Readers:

What will it take for Alberta to correct the severe deficiencies in its electoral process?


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