Parties will soon be bound by new election transparency law

New Brunswick's five political parties will soon be watching what they say and keeping track of what it may cost as the Sept. 22 provincial election draws closer.

Green Party Leader David Coon says new transparency law will be a 'challenge' for smaller parties

New Brunswick's five political parties will soon be watching what they say and keeping track of what it may cost as the Sept. 22 provincial election draws closer.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs and NDP Leader Dominic Cardy spoke in May after the provincial government tabled a bill that will require political parties to reveal the costs of their election promises. (CBC)
The Fiscal Transparency and Accountability Act forces political parties to provide a cost estimate for all campaign promises made, starting 90 days before the election. That means any commitment made starting on June 24 must have a price tag along with it.

The law is intended to discourage parties from promising things that turn out to be too expensive.

Finance Minister Blaine said he hopes the new requirements surrounding election promises will lead to better informed voters.

"This is another mechanism to try to let the public know all of the details when they cast their ballot," Higgs said.

Political parties often provided cost estimates for election promises in the past but they were not under any legal requirement to do so.

This legislation clearly discriminates against parties with modest resources and limited or no staff.- Green Party Leader David Coon

The parties must state the estimated cost and revenue effect of any promise and what the estimate is based on. The estimates have to be reviewed and approved by an accountant.

The law says the Legislature Library can help political parties research the cost of their election commitments.

The Legislative Assembly is in the process of hiring a research officer. That position includes a specific requirement to help political parties adhere to the new law.

Any promises made between June 24 and the start of the campaign have to be costed by the day of the election call. Promises during the campaign have to be accompanied by costing estimates as they are made. 

The statements will be public.

Elections New Brunswick will reimburse each party for the expense of hiring an accountant up to $25,000.

After the election results are official, any registered political party can ask the courts to review whether another party followed the law. If a judge rules the party failed to comply, it can lose its public subsidy.

The law is the first of its kind in Canada and it is already being noticed. 

A report from Dominion Bond Rating Service, a bond rating agency, upheld the province's credit rating in April due, in part, to the law.

“That's interesting to see that,” Higgs said.

“Not that I'm surprised by that because they would look at any activities that we put in place to try to limit our expenditures and get control of our finances."

Political parties prepare for new law

Stephen Yardy, the executive director for the New Democratic Party, said his party was already costing everything it intended to promise, even before Higgs brought in the law.

Green Party Leader David Coon said the new campaign transparency law will be difficult for smaller political parties that have fewer financial resources. (CBC)
"That's all being compiled right now and being put into a final document," Yardy said.

The Liberals say they will comply with the transparency law and they say they have intended all along to ensure their promises were affordable.

Green Party Leader David Coon admitted the new requirements are going to be a "challenge" for smaller parties.

"This legislation clearly discriminates against parties with modest resources and limited or no staff. To partially address this, the Legislative Library is supposed to be available to us provide research services for costing the platform," Coon said in a statement.

"I have heard nothing more about this and have yet to approach them, but intend to see what help they can provide.  Beyond this we will be enlisting the economists from within our party to volunteer some of their time."

Wes Gullison, the deputy leader of the People’s Alliance of New Brunswick, said the party still has few details on the costing requirement.

But Gullison said his party believes in the spirit behind the law and the alliance tried to provide those estimates in the 2010 election.

“The People's Alliance was planning on researching and fully costing each and every commitment it will make,” Gullison said in a statement.

"Given the fiscal state of the province during the last election, and also this election, the People's Alliance will not be making any lavish spending promises. Getting the fiscal house in order and growing the economy are two of the most important issues for our party going into this election."


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