An elections rules and financing bill that provoked heated debate in the Alberta the legislature was amended late Monday by the minister who sponsored it.
Bill 81, the Elections Statutes Amendment Act, originally contained a provision that would allow unlimited donations to nomination candidates.
The NDP opposition complained the measure, combined with an end to quarterly financial reporting by constituency associations, would give the governing United Conservative Party a new way to raise campaign funds with little transparency.
Candidates running for nomination can spend a maximum of $12,500 on their campaigns. Existing elections legislation allows candidates to donate the excess to the constituency association or the party.
The NDP argued the UCP could run a number of nomination candidates who could solicit contributions from donors who face no limits.
Money donated to constituency associations would be reported on an annual basis only, meaning an election could pass without the public knowing the source of donations.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Kaycee Madu introduced an amendment that subjected donors who wish to donate to nomination contestants to a $4,000 annual cap.
“It doesn’t matter if you choose to donate to four nomination contestants, you have $4,000 to spend,” he said. “If you choose to donate to 10, you have $4,000 to spend.”
NDP house leader Christina Gray said on Tuesday there are still issues even though Madu’s amendments addressed what she believes are the most problematic parts of Bill 81.
Donations to nomination races are separate from the current $4,243 donation limit to political parties for each calendar year.
“That’s a lot of money going into our political system,” Gray said.
The bill still eliminates the need for constituency associations to file quarterly reports with Elections Alberta.
Language too vague
Bill 81 also closes what the UCP has called the Alberta Federation of Labour or AFL loophole.
The bill allows the chief electoral officer from preventing anyone affiliated with a political party from holding a “significant position” within a political action committee or PAC.
The Alberta Federation of Labour could be prohibited from remaining a third-party advertiser if the bill is passed as they are formally affiliated with the Alberta NDP. Two AFL designates sit on the NDP’s provincial council.
The opposition raised concerns in an earlier debate that the language in the bill was so vague that it could disqualify any individual or group from registering as a third party advertiser if they ever spoke out or opposed the government on an issue.
Madu agreed the initial wording was too broad. His amendment limits the chief electoral officer to looking at whether an individual involved in a PAC is involved directly in the operations or decision-making of a political party, and whether a political party directly controls or has an agreement with that third-party advertiser.
Debate on Bill 81 is expected to continue Tuesday.
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