UCP overhauls municipal election rules ahead of 2021

By Catherine Griwkowsky June 25, 2020

The UCP tabled new legislation that makes a fleet of changes to municipal fundraising rules ahead of the 2021 elections.
Bill 29, Local Authorities Elections Amendment Act, ups the amount individuals can donate to a candidate from $4,000 to $5,000 — and allows donors to contribute to as many candidates’ campaigns as they like. Under current rules, donors are subject to a blanket cap of $4,000 across the race, limiting the amount of money that flows into municipal elections. 
Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu said the changes are meant to level the playing field since the status quo favours incumbents over challengers.
“This is good for our local elections, this is good for democracy,” Madu said Wednesday.
The municipal campaign period will also be reduced: the period between when nominations open and election day drops from six weeks to four weeks, under the bill. 
However, limitations on third-party advertising outside of the campaign period will be wiped out, meaning unions, businesses and PACs will be able to spend without restriction until one month before voters head to the polls.
Madu said this change has to do with free speech. 
The UCP campaigned on eliminating the so-called “AFL loophole” by limiting donations to third-party advertisers to $30,000, but Madu told reporters that the promise was for provincial campaigns, not local ones. 
NDP Municipal Affairs critic Joe Ceci said Bill 29 will drag “sleazy, big money politics” into municipal and school board elections.
“The rich can buy the council they want,” Ceci said of the changes.
The bill also eliminates the requirement for candidates to disclose their donors prior to election day, which Madu said will reduce the red tape burden on candidates. 
“I want candidates to focus on their campaign and their vision for why they want to be elected,” Madu said. “Why do we want to have that particular red tape?” 
Madu said the changes in Bill 29 were supported by the Rural Municipalities Association, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), and even Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who has been an outspoken critic of holding a referendum during municipal elections.
AUMA president Barry Morishita said the organization supports most of the bill but will work to ensure municipalities get a “fair deal” from the province.
Accusations of ‘dark money’ and ‘referendum control’ in pair of other democratic reform bills
NDP Democracy and Ethics Critic Heather Sweet and NDP Leader Rachel Notley contend a pair of other UCP bills — Bill 26, Constitutional Referendum Amendment Act, and Bill 27, Alberta Senate Election Amendment Act — will bring big money back into politics and give the government total control over next year’s referendums.
Bill 26 gives cabinet final say over the referendum question or questions that will be presented to voters next year. 
The referenda will be governed by its own campaign restrictions, which will cap third-party advertising at $500,000 (audited financial statements will only be required for advertising expenses over $350,000).
“This isn‘t about strengthening democracy, this is Jason Kenney giving himself the power to create a big money machine that will allow the UCP’s rich friends and donors to write cheques in the shadows,” Sweet said in a news release.
Kenney said the bill would make things easier on a small community group, for example, that may have raised about $10,000 for an issue such as daylight saving time.
During question period, Notley said she would support Bill 26 and Bill 27 if they banned corporate and union donations.
The government describes Bill 27 as making minor housekeeping changes to the Alberta Senate Election Act, which received royal assent last summer and allows the province to hold (non-binding) Senate nominee elections. The prime minister still has the ultimate say over senate appointments.