Changes to Alberta's local elections 'damaging to democracy,' Grande Prairie mayor says

Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given says he is disappointed that Bill 29, the Local Authorities Election Amendment Act, passed final reading this week in the Alberta legislature.

Bill 29 passed third and final reading this week

Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given said Bill 29 could allow a small group of wealthy donors to have a large influence on Alberta's next local elections. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given says he is disappointed that Bill 29, the Local Authorities Election Amendment Act, passed final reading this week in the Alberta legislature.

The bill proposes changes to rules for municipal and school board elections, including allowing people to donate up to $5,000 for as many candidates as they like and allowing candidates to not disclose their donors before election day.

Given said he supports a part of the bill that requires candidates to donate unspent campaign funds over $1,000 to charity, but its other changes "are actually damaging to local democracy."

"The impact of this, or the potential impact of this, is for a small group of wealthy interests to fund candidates all across the province," he said Thursday in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

Premier Jason Kenney on 'dark money' in local elections

2 years ago
Duration 3:23
Premier Jason Kenney defends Bill 29 in the Alberta legislature on July 21. 3:23

Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu has said the changes are designed to better engage Albertans in local issues and "level the playing field," allowing the best candidates to run and win. 

Jon Dziadyk, who defeated an incumbent to win his Ward 3 Edmonton city council seat in 2017, has echoed that sentiment on social media and thanked the minister for his work on this file.

But Given, who has both defeated an incumbent and won as an incumbent in Grande Prairie mayoral races in the past decade, said the new rules may help incumbents most of all.

"If anything, this would allow incumbents to actually attract more donations and larger donations, and I don't think it helps level the playing field at all," he said.

'Dark money'

Members of the Opposition NDP say Bill 29 paves the way for local elections to be influenced by wealthy donors and "dark money."

Premier Jason Kenney disputed that at the legislature on Tuesday night, saying that the new rules would still require public disclosure of all contributions over $50.

Kenney, who campaigned on a promise to "remove big money from Alberta politics," said his government will be tabling legislation that would impose a $30,000 limit on contributions to political action committees (PACs). 

Bill 29 requires candidates who receive or spend more than $50,000 to have their financial statements reviewed by chartered professional accountants before submitting them to municipalities and school boards.

Given called this a "meaningless provision" because most municipal campaigns in Alberta run on far less money.

AUMA says suggestions ignored

Given is not the only person sounding the alarm about Bill 29.

The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, whose president was quoted as supporting many of the changes in a government press release last month, released a blunt statement on Wednesday criticizing the government for passing the bill without making changes to its amendments on contribution limits, financial disclosure and third-party advertising.

"This decision demonstrates a lack of respect for the role of municipal councils, our democratic mandate, and Alberta's voters, resulting in the potential for profound negative consequences for democracy in Alberta's communities," the statement reads.

Andrew Knack, the city councillor for Edmonton's Ward 1, and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi have also criticized parts of the bill.

Ask Her YYC and Parity YEG, non-partisan non-profits working to increase the percentage of women in city politics, released a joint statement late last month saying the new rules on fundraising "may deter women from mounting effective political campaigns."

Consultation process challenged

The provincial government claims the changes in Bill 29 were informed by "an extensive consultation process" involving community groups, elected officials and municipal associations like the AUMA.

CBC asked for but has yet to receive the results of an online survey on local election rules that took place in the winter of 2020.

Several elected officials who provided feedback to the government say their suggestions were not included in the bill.

"They're saying that there have been significant consultations but it doesn't appear that they've taken any of the input and they're not willing to tell us what Albertans said about the legislation," Given said.


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