Saskatchewan the 'wild west' for campaign finance laws, says Alberta group

Since 2006, the Saskatchewan Party has accepted more than $3 million in out-of-province corporate donations, according to a new database from Progress Alberta.

Alberta companies have donated $2M to Saskatchewan Party since 2006

In June, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall spoke at the Calgary Petroleum Club. The speech motivated Progress Alberta to look into Saskatchewan Party donations from Alberta. (CBC)

Since 2006, the Saskatchewan Party has accepted more than $3 million in out-of-province corporate donations, with more than $2 million coming from Alberta companies alone, according to a new database.

​"I don't think anyone would be cool with a Calgary Stampeder putting on a Roughrider jersey, showing up in the huddle and then participating in the plays," said Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta, an Edmonton-based non-profit advocacy group that compiled the database.

Duncan Kinney is the executive director of Progress Alberta. He recently tabulated the campaign donations to the Saskatchewan Party from corporations. (Submitted by Duncan Kinney)

Kinney said he was motivated to look into donations to the Saskatchewan Party coming from Alberta after a speech Premier Brad Wall made at Calgary's Petroleum Club in June.

"I think people who live in Saskatchewan should know that millions of dollars of out-of-province money have flowed into their politics since 2006," said Kinney.

Who is behind the donations

Kinney said the major contributions came from oil and gas, banks and construction companies.

Here's a sample of some of the Alberta-based companies and their donation totals from Progress Alberta:

  • Crescent Point: $126,924.
  • PCL: $88,817.
  • Penn West: $83,348.
  • Cenovus: $68,108.
  • Encana: $50,557.

In 2007 alone, Canadian Western Bank donated $200,000 to the Saskatchewan Party.

Progress Alberta also took issue with donations from charities, universities, and cities and municipalities.

  • Over a three year period, the Regina Public Library gave $3,304.
  • Between 2006 and 2011, the University of Regina donated $7,848.
  • Between 2006 and 2015, the City of Regina donated $7,499.

The 2016 donation numbers will not be posted by Elections Saskatchewan until 2017.

Kinney said the majority of the money was donated between 2006 and 2008. He said the party has done a good job at diversifying donations and receiving money from individual donors.

Saskatchewan the 'wild west'

"Saskatchewan is the wild west when it comes to campaign finance laws. It has the worst campaign finance laws in the country and it beats out British Columbia by a nose simply by fact that Saskatchewan allows registered charities to donate and B.C. does not," Kinney said.

When it comes to political donations, Alberta outlawed corporate and union contributions in 2015. And in 1977, Alberta made out-of-province donations illegal.

Progress Alberta did not calculate the total of individual donations or examine donations to other parties in the province.

"The Saskatchewan Party, because of its advantages, could very well get rid of corporate money and still out-fundraise its opponents, and it would be the right thing to do," said Kinney.

Saskatchewan one of the 'worst' provinces for donation laws: Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher, the founder of Democracy Watch, agreed with Kinney's assessment that Saskatchewan is the "wild west" when it comes to party donations because of its limited laws.

"Saskatchewan is one of the worst — if not the worst — in Canada for political finance system," said Conacher.

Under the current rules, Conacher said there is nothing stopping a foreign-owned company based in Canada from paying for political influence in Saskatchewan.

"They don't have the same interests as people who live in the province," he said.

"It amounts to the best government money can buy instead of the best government that voters want."

He pointed to Quebec as having the world's best party donation laws, as it allows individual donations to a maximum of $100.

Government response

A government spokesperson told CBC in an email it has received nearly $30 million in donations, the vast majority of which came from Saskatchewan. It says 10 per cent of that amount is from corporations headquartered outside of Saskatchewan but many have operations or employees living here.

In 2012, the Saskatchewan Party changed its policy to no longer accept money from event tickets from government-funded educational institutions or crown corporations.

Premier Brad Wall said on Tuesday the government had no plans to attempt to change campaign finance laws, describing the current system as "robust."

"I think resource companies that are employing thousands of people in Saskatchewan may want to participate in democracy, either way. Unions might also," he said. 

"And so I think it's reasonable as long as we're watching the numbers and they're not huge numbers."

Wall pointed to a new lobbyist registry as a means to ensure the government is held accountable, by disclosing its meetings with the business world.

NDP interim leader Trent Wotherspoon says his party wants to see changes to Saskatchewan's campaign finance laws. (CBC News )

But NDP interim leader Trent Wotherspoon said his party was looking at options to reform electoral finance in Saskatchewan. 

"We'd like to get big money out of politics and that would mean corporate and union donations," he said. 

"Let's make sure that democracy is there for the people of the province and any questions of influence, or any perception of influence, should be addressed."