News / Edmonton

Debate over getting big money out of City of Edmonton politics resurfaces

Incumbent Andrew Knack pledges he won't accept union or corporate cash for campaign

A break down that shows how much each City of Edmonton council member received in donations during the 2013 election campaign.

Graphic by Andres Plana / Metro

A break down that shows how much each City of Edmonton council member received in donations during the 2013 election campaign.

As city councillors hit the campaign trail this summer, one incumbent’s decision to not accept corporate or union cash is re-igniting the debate over getting big money out of politics.

Coun. Andrew Knack, who’s seeking re-election in Ward 1, announced Wednesday he won’t be accepting corporate or union donations during his campaign.

The decision puts the spotlight back on the role of money in Edmonton politics.

Knack says the large amount of money donated to the campaigns of returning candidates often dissuades others from entering the race, which results in a less democratic system.

“It makes it challenging if you’re going up against incumbents who are raising upwards of $100,000 in some cases,” Knack said.

“So I want to see this change (ban on corporate and union cash) eventually occur.”

The incumbent advantage is noticeable in mayoral races, according to Mount Royal political science professor Duane Bratt, who pointed to the fact that Mayor Don Iveson raised about $618,000 during the 2013 election campaign.

“When you’re not an incumbent, or a big name, who has the capacity of raising that much money?” he said.

“If you get rid of corporate and union donations, it makes it that much more difficult to raise large sums of money. So you end up with less money being spent and an even playing field.”

In fact, 71 per cent of donations raised by winning candidates during the 2013 election came from businesses and unions, according to data crunching by Metro. 

City council then passed a resolution in July 2015 that asked the Alberta government to ban corporate donations in municipal elections, because it falls under provincial jurisdiction.

But the province has yet to change the rules — something Bratt calls a missed opportunity.

He said the province could have enacted the municipal ban in 2015 when they prohibited provincial parties from accepting corporate and union cash.

“It wouldn’t have been that difficult for them to have done that,” he said.

However, municipal affairs spokesperson Tim Seefeldt said they couldn’t enact the ban for cities in 2015 because it fell under completely different legislation.

Instead, the province will conduct a review in 2018 and possibly impose a ban for municipalities later that year, he added.

Knack said he won’t criticize anyone for taking corporate or union cash during this campaign.

“I completely understand why there are going to be many other people who are going to proceed under the existing rules, because the rules are the rules,” he said.

Edmonton’s general election will be held on Oct. 16.

More on