New bill aims to prevent financial collusion between Alberta political parties

A proposed amendment to Alberta’s elections financing act appears to be a warning to the United Conservative Party to not use money donated to its legacy parties in the next provincial election.

Governing NDP still won’t end corporate and union donations to PACs

A new bill introduced Tuesday by Alberta's NDP government aims to prevent collusion between political parties to circumvent election spending limits. (CBC)

A proposed amendment to Alberta's elections financing act appears to be a warning to the United Conservative Party to not use money donated to its legacy parties in the next provincial election.

Bill 16, introduced Tuesday by Christina Gray, minister responsible for democratic renewal, adds a requirement for all associated parties to share a $2-million limit for general election campaigns.

For example, the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties, which are still incorporated as parties despite voting to merge with the UCP, could not use their funds to push the UCP over the $2-million limit.

The threat is theoretical, as these parties have not shown any signs of colluding.

Officials say the purpose of the bill is to close a loophole in the Elections Finances and Contributions Disclosure Statutes Act.

Whether political parties are "associated" with each other under the act would be determined by the new position of election commissioner. Generally, parties are considered associated if they share the same leader or board members.

Gray said the government is ensuring that the rules are clear for future elections. 

"Making sure there are no loopholes is my responsibility as minister of democratic renewal," she said. 

Elections Alberta lists Kenney as the leader of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative Party, which also share the same chief financial officer and chair of the UCP interim board.

Kenney noted the bill is yet another amendment to Alberta election financing law and an example of the NDP "making it up as they go along."

He said the merger agreement between the Wildrose and PC parties made it clear that they would not use the dormant parties for election fundraising. 

"We'll vote for (the bill) because we're not looking to play fast and loose with the rules here," Kenney said.

He said the UCP has kept the registrations active so no one could revive the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties and divide the right again. 

Union, corporation PAC donations

The bill has other provisions to increase the penalty for breaching the spending limit from $10,000 to $100,000 and for making new parties file annual reports even if they form in the last four months of the year.

Another amendment adds a requirement for political parties to add campaign contributions to their quarterly reports, instead of reporting those amounts annually.

But the changes do not address what some consider an even larger loophole.

Although they can't donate to political parties, unions and companies from inside and outside Alberta can still contribute unlimited amounts of money to political action committees, or PACs.

Government officials say a legal opinion suggests that limiting these donations could be seen as an infringement of the right to free speech.

Unions have been big contributors to third-party advertisers like the Public Interest Alberta society, Project Alberta and the Alberta Federation of Labour.