In a rather stunning development, Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel has found himself ineligible to run for his own party on the eve of a general election call due to his filing of his nomination expense forms too late.
This is nothing less than a disaster for the nascent Alberta Party which had been dearly hoping to pull themselves from single digit support into being a viable alternative in the general election. Mandel is trying to appeal the Elections Alberta sanction, but time is short and it appears that he broke the rules. Even if Elections Alberta lets him off the hook, the embarrassment to his party won’t be going away. How on earth can they convince voters that they will govern the province well when their own leader can’t file his expense forms on time?
Let’s be clear, I am no fan of the Alberta Party. They are a group of liberals wearing a thin coat of blue paint peppered with a number of disenchanted red Tories left over from the defunct Progressive Conservative Party. They talk a big game on social media but fail dismally when faced with actual elections. Former Leader Greg Clark won Calgary Elbow but he won that constituency on his own merit rather than the party’s. As a reward, he compatriots within the party kicked him to the curb in order to bring in Stephen Mandel as a new leader. Hardly looking like a wise trade today.
I also understand just how easy it is to fill out a zero expense form for Elections Alberta after running in a nomination race. I did that very thing last fall and it took me about twenty minutes.
What I question is the need for parties to answer to Elections Alberta at all when it comes to nomination races. Political parties are private entities. They have their own constitutions, they have their own memberships. Nobody is forced to join or support political parties. Nomination and leadership races are entirely within the domain of these entities and they should be able to run them however they damn well please.
Rachel Notley has grossly abused the Alberta electoral process since becoming our accidental Premier almost four years ago. The Alberta Elections act has been amended at least 4 times since she took power and it has become a quagmire of over reaching rules and controls. Even Elections Alberta themselves have difficulty in giving clear answers to questions on how spending and campaigning work when we have this bizarre “election period” leading to a formal campaign at some unknown time while essentially banning campaigning before this nebulous “period” comes into play. All parties have spent countless hours scratching their heads in trying to figure out how to promote their brand while remaining legally within the ever changing constraints of the Elections act.
One of the traps that the NDP planted into nomination legislation was in having all people register publicly with Elections Alberta if they are even considering running for a nomination. The intent was to embarrass parties as undesirable candidates appear on a list associated with the party while the party had utterly no mechanism to keep that from happening.
This strategy backfired when I registered as a candidate for the NDP for Banff Kananaskis.
After I released a few embarrassing campaign planks in my run as an NDP candidate, parties suddenly became able to put an annotation in the listing to label a candidate as having been rejected by the party. Rest assured though, had I not done that the NDP would have happily been using the nomination listings as a hammer to beat the UCP up with as every crackpot who takes the time to fill out a simple form suddenly becomes listed as a nomination candidate.
While other parties wrestle with this legislative mess, Rachel Notley and gang happily have been in full campaign mode for months as they advertise and make spending announcements while being immune from the act as they are claiming to be acting on government business. It helps that the NDP rarely actually holds democratically challenged nominations.
Now Albertans are stuck in this election campaign that isn’t an election campaign. Vitriol is rising as parties and voters become frustrated in this electoral purgatory. Electoral discontent and apathy is surely growing as this hyper-partisan environment dominates the news and a date for an actual election still hasn’t actually been set.
Gross fundraising and spending constraints added to the Elections Act have only served to spawn numerous PACs which are even less transparent than the parties were. Lets face it, if people want to promote a party they will find a way no matter how hard the government tries to prevent it. Now the poor souls at Election Alberta are scrambling to try to track the actions of a bunch of “independent” groups on top of all the party tracking they are tasked with. It is an utter mess.
We need government to get the hell out of party business and elections.
To begin with, we need truly set election dates. None of this “election period” bullshit which gives the Premier months to play coy and mess with the election call for the benefit of their own party. We need an election date set and I mean the actual day of the vote. Nothing less.
I understand that with our constitution that any law for a fixed election date can be repealed by a majority government. We saw Prentice do that very thing. How well did that work out for his government though? A fixed date would put some pretty heavy pressure on the government to abide by it and if they decided to break it they had better damn well have a good reason or the electorate will be certain to apply punishment at the polls.
Nominations and leadership races should be completely left out of electoral legislation. It is up to parties to set their own rules. If the public doesn’t like how they do it, they simply don’t have to support those parties.
Aside from a degree of disclosure requirements and perhaps a very high upper limit, parties should not have their fundraising ability restricted as well. As long as we know who donated and how much, we need little else. It would be true transparency.
Party politics do indeed run on money but money is hardly a guarantee of electoral success. Notley and Nenshi both won elections while spending far less than their competitors. We don’t need to try to strangle party fundraising or spending. Let voters be the judge.
It is rare that an incumbent party has the will to change laws in favor of other parties. The window will be short but I think it is important that we all pressure the next government of Alberta to reform the Elections Act yet again. This time though, we need to look at how we can strip it to its bare minimum. Let grassroots democracy take care of the rest.