News / Canada

Alberta proposes new rules to lower and limit campaign spending and advertising

Alberta is proposing new rules that would limit spending on political campaigns and cap individual contributions at $4,000 a year.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley comments on the election of Donald Trump in Edmonton Alta, on Wednesday November 9, 2016.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley comments on the election of Donald Trump in Edmonton Alta, on Wednesday November 9, 2016.

EDMONTON — Alberta is proposing new rules that would limit spending on political campaigns and cap individual contributions at $4,000 a year.

Opponents say while the goal is to get big money out of politics, the playing field remains tilted until the government reins in its own spending on advertising.

Christina Gray, minister in charge of democratic renewal, introduced the changes Monday.

"We are ending the days of backroom deals and pay to play politics," Gray said.

"We're standing up for Albertans who say, 'Enough is enough.' Because Albertans decide elections, not big money and not special interest groups."

The proposed Fair Elections Financing Act would allow individuals to contribute up to $4,000 a year to politics. The money would be allowed to go to parties, candidates, constituency associations, leadership and nomination contests.

The current maximum is $15,000 per contributor per year, doubling to $30,000 in an election year.

Gray's bill also calls for a spending limit of $2 million for parties during an election.

Third-party spending couldn't exceed $150,000 during an election.

There would be no spending limit for leadership contests, but the entry fee for candidates would have to be reasonably related to the cost of running the race.

The rules, if passed, will not affect the current Progressive Conservative leadership contest or the Liberal race that is set to begin in the spring. However, surplus funds will have to be returned to contributors.

Legislation passed by Premier Rachel Notley's government last year banned corporate and union donations to political parties.

Opposition members agreed it's critical to get big money out of politics, but suggested the government has to level the playing field by putting some kind of limit on government ads heading into an election.

They said such ads, by trumpeting government achievements, act as election propaganda for a governing party while being paid for by the taxpayer.

"We have not seen anything on the government party advertisements, something that we have raised for a long time … particularly during byelections (where there are no restrictions on government ads)," said Jason Nixon of the Opposition Wildrose party.

"I don't see anything that's inherently unfair (in the bill)," said David Swann of the Liberals. But Swann added he will be pushing for restrictions on government ads.

Gray said she is deliberating on some kind of restriction, but would not commit to taking action.

The changes follow recent deliberations of an all-party committee tasked with developing new rules to improve equity and accountability during elections and fundraising.

That committee fell into cross-party infighting over issues such as fundraising and, in the end, did not submit formal recommendations on changes to the rules. The committee's mandate lapsed in September and the government did not renew it.