Former NDP staffer behind new Alberta political action committee

A former communications director for the Alberta NDP is the public face of Project Alberta, a new third-party advertiser or political action committee that registered last month with Elections Alberta.

Project Alberta registered with Elections Alberta on Dec. 6

The NDP promised to get 'big money' out of Alberta politics with legislative reform, but has not placed limits or banned corporate and union donations to political action committees. (CBC)

A former communications director for the Alberta NDP is the public face of Project Alberta, a new third-party advertiser or political action committee that registered last month with Elections Alberta.

Edmonton lawyer Mark Wells worked for the NDP caucus about a decade ago when the party was in opposition. He also worked for the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and was managing director of the Alberta government's Public Affairs Bureau for about a year until October 2016,

Wells said Project Alberta is not an NDP or government organization. But he acknowledged the group's messages align the most with NDP policies and values. 

"We basically have a mission that we want to promote policies for Alberta that increase social and economic equality in the province," he said. "It's as simple as that."

Political action committees have become a hot topic in Alberta politics ever since United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney first entered provincial politics nearly two years ago.

Kenney relied on donations raised through Unite Alberta, and its successor, Alberta Advantage, to fund his two leadership campaigns for the PCs and UCP, and his drive to unite the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties. 

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The Notley government passed legislation prohibiting unions and corporate donations to political parties, and limiting aggregate annual contributions to $4,000 per donor.

But PACs face no contribution limits and can still accept donations from corporations, unions and out-of-province donors, even after the NDP passed legislation last fall to regulate them.

Alberta Liberal Leader David Khan has criticized the NDP for doing little to crack down on PACs, something he attributes to the fact the party wants PACs of their own.

Khan said he doesn't buy Wells' argument that people need to hear from a left-wing PAC to counter the messages coming from groups on the right like Unite Alberta. 

"Political parties should be the entities that are promoting those messages," Khan said. "And the money that goes into promoting those messages should be transparent and it should be regulated.

"And it should be from individuals, not corporations and unions."

The Liberals introduced a private member's bill to regulate PACs. But the bill died when the NDP introduced some changes to PACs in Bill 32, introduced several days later.

Over the next few months, Wells said he plans to approach unions for donations. He said some people think this could could siphon off some funding from the Alberta Federation of Labour, but he doesn't agree. The AFL has also registered as a third-party advertiser with Elections Alberta.

Wells argues there needs to be more voices advocating for social and economic equality.

"There is a large number of well-funded organizations that are giving messages and promoting policies that are contrary to these values," he said. "So I think, the more the merrier. It remains to be seen if people agree with that."

Wells said Project Alberta is run by a board of directors. But he declined to name them, saying it was because he didn't clear it with them before agreeing to an interview with CBC.