Municipal election funding legislation contains 'one enormous mistake,' Nenshi says

Proposed changes under a new municipal election financing bill represent a mixed bag for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi — but without one major change, the legislation won't receive his support.

Calgary mayor said candidates should be required to disclose their donors before election day

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he was pleased amendments were being tabled to the Local Authorities Election Amendment Act, but said he couldn't support the legislation in its current form. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Proposed changes under a new municipal election financing bill represent a mixed bag for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi — but without one major change, the legislation won't receive his support.

"I have continued to push on better changes, to make sure that our elections are more fair. It's not about who's got the most money, it's about who's got the best ideas," Nenshi said. "So I'm very pleased that these amendments are being tabled.

"I do think, however, there are some missed opportunities here and I also think that they have made one enormous mistake."

Bill 29, the Local Authorities Election Amendment Act, was tabled on Wednesday in the Alberta legislature, and would allow residents to donate up to $5,000 to as many candidates as they want.

Currently, individuals are only allowed to donate $4,000 in total during a municipal election — meaning that if they want to donate to multiple candidates, they must divide that figure among the candidates of their choosing.

The new legislation also comes one day after Bill 26 was introduced, which would allow third-party advertisers to spend up to $500,000 on provincial election campaigns, an increase from $150,000. 

The Opposition NDP has said the changes could allow so-called "dark money" to influence referendums.

Under the legislation as tabled, candidates would also no longer be required to disclose their donors prior to election day. 

'The good'

Nenshi said he has long argued that campaigns shouldn't be able to carry surpluses from one election to the next, something that would be axed under the proposed legislation.

"Now, you have to donate your surplus after the election, which I think is a great thing," Nenshi said. 

"I think that means a real level playing field — it takes away power from incumbents. That's important and I'm pleased to have seen that change."

'The missed opportunities'

Allowing residents to donate to as many candidates as they want is a positive, Nenshi said, but the $5,000 limit is not.

"If we're really interested in taking money out of politics, that $5,000 limit should be lowered to $2,000 or even $1,000 and make the candidates work for that money," he said.

Nenshi also called proposed changes around third-party regulation a "missed opportunity."

"What they didn't do is implement spending limits for those third-parties, they didn't regulate them better," he said. "Right now, it would be very easy for a union, a public sector union, or for a land development association to spend a ton of money, totally destroying somebody's reputation.

"[Then], they could spend a ton of money during the election itself in a way that is regulated but not regulated enough."

The 'very bad thing'

Nenshi said changes to donor disclosure represented the legislation's "enormous mistake" and would prevent him from lending the bill his support.

"Voters need to know who donated to a campaign before they vote. I have always disclosed my donors, even though I'm not legally required to do so, prior to the election," he said. "I was very pleased when the previous government allowed cities the ability to require that donor disclosure before the election. This Bill 29 removes that.

"That is a massive regressive step backwards and without that being put back in, I can't support this legislation as a whole."

With files from Michelle Bellefontaine and Hala Ghonaim


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