Set election date, lifting of $2M cap on election spending proposed in new Alberta bill

·3 min read
The next provincial election will be on May 29, 2023, if new legislation is passed by the Alberta legislature.  (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)
The next provincial election will be on May 29, 2023, if new legislation is passed by the Alberta legislature. (Dan McGarvey/CBC - image credit)

Alberta's United Conservative government wants to end the $2 million cap on election campaign spending, in favour of a new formula and require mandatory identification for voters in provincial elections.

These are among several changes contained in Bill 81, the Election Statutes Amendment Act, introduced in the Alberta legislature on Thursday by Justice Minister Kaycee Madu. The bill amends the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act and the Alberta Personal Income Tax Act.

"All of these proposed changes reflect this government's commitment to strengthening democracy in this province," Madu said.

The new election funding cap will be based on the number of eligible voters multiplied by $1.16. As of April 2021, there were 2,822,303 Albertans eligible to vote, which would bring spending limits to $3.27 million, well over the $2 million cap imposed by the NDP in 2018.

Mandatory identification to prove an elector's residence follows guidelines currently adhered to by municipal and federal elections. There is a provision allowing an elector to vouch for a person who lacks identification.

The bill also sets a fixed election date of the last Monday in May every four years. However, the lieutenant-governor still maintains the ability to dissolve the legislature at any time.

If passed, the date of the next election would be May 29, 2023. Previous legislation set a three-month range for an election to be called every four years.

Other new measures in the bill include ending the requirement for constituency associations to report quarterly and prescribing no limits on contributions to people running in candidate nomination races.

Donations to nomination candidates would not be tax deductible nor would they be counted toward a donor's maximum annual contribution limit of $4,243 per calendar year.

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu dismissed the issue because nomination candidates cannot spend above $12,500.

The bill imposes the annual $30,000 cap on contributions to political action committees. It allows the chief electoral officer from preventing anyone affiliated with a political party from holding a "significant position" within a PAC.

The Alberta Federation of Labour could be prohibited from remaining a third-party advertiser if the bill is passed as they are formally affiliated with the Alberta NDP. Two AFL designates sit on the NDP's provincial council.

Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang, the NDP opposition critic for democracy and ethics, accused the UCP of making changes that would give them an edge in fundraising and open the door for abuse. He said removing the quarterly reporting requirements for constituency associations would allow the party to hide its donors for a longer period of time.

Dang also accused the UCP of using the bill to deprive working people of their rights but couldn't tell reporters how the legislation does that beyond prohibiting the AFL from being a third-party advertiser.

"Workers deserve to be able to be part of the political process," he said. "They deserve to have their say in parties. They deserve to be part of a constituency association's political operations, whatever they want, because they are Albertans."

Election advertising contributions are limited to Alberta residents; residents of Canada can contribute to all other PACs but the bill forbids contributions from outside the country.

The proposed legislation also contains these changes:

  • Lifting the limit on 450 voters per poll station

  • Starting the campaign period on the day the writ is issued instead of Feb. 1

  • Changing the trigger for a recount to 100 votes or less

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