Rumor has it that the Kenney government intends to change the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act next year. During Rachel Notley’s tenure as Premier the act was quietly amended no less than four times. The NDP always knew that their odds of re-election in Alberta were slim at best. In messing with the Elections Act they hoped to set some traps and create conditions which would hinder the chances of competing parties. What was created was an unholy regulatory mess and it needs to be undone.
It is unfortunate that Jason Kenney and the UCP took such a ham handed approach with Bill 22. The rush to ram that bill through the legislature has ensured that Albertan’s will look at any reform proposed by the Kenney government with a jaundiced eye. With a number of United Conservative Party activists having been investigated and fined in the last year, any changes made to the Elections Act by the government will look self-serving. Nevertheless, the act needs reform.
In imposing stringent spending caps on parties, the NDP government caused political action committees (PACs) to spring up like daisies on the electoral landscape. People are going to promote their causes one way or another and if the party route is closed they will create a new one. The NDP used labor unions to get their election messaging out while remaining within their party spending limits.
Third-party advertising regulations have led to a myriad of court challenges which will take time, cost money and likely be rescinded due to court rulings.They are a clear violation of free speech and expression.
The most clever and disruptive trap that the Notley government planted into the Elections act was in having Elections Alberta take over the regulation and management of internal party business. Political parties are private entities and the management of their nomination and leadership races was traditionally self-governed.
In keeping with socialist principles, the New Democratic Party of Alberta is managed with a top-down centralized model. The NDP rarely actually holds democratic nomination races.The leader chooses and appoints most of their candidates while the central party takes care of most of the funds rather than constituency associations. In placing onerous regulations upon constituency associations the NDP wreaked havoc among the ground organization of other parties while feeling nearly no impact themselves.
Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel was found to be ineligible to run in the general election. Despite Mandel’s being acclaimed as a candidate for the party, he failed to file a zero-expenditure report for the nomination race which was never held. Mandel got a last-minute reprieve and was allowed to run in the election. It demonstrates just how insidious the NDP regulations are when a party leader is almost blocked from running in an election due to a pointless reporting requirement.
The trap set by the NDP in having Elections Alberta govern and regulate leadership races worked in spades. The UCP is still dealing with the fallout due to a number of party activists along with one leadership candidate running afoul of the rules.
The NDP set a trap in the constituency nomination process by requiring all nomination hopefuls register with Elections Alberta. Those aspirants were then listed on the Elections Alberta website as nomination candidates for parties. There was no way for parties to approve or vet these candidates in any way. Inevitably some radical candidates registered to contest UCP nominations. The NDP then pounced and tried to paint the UCP party based on the registered individuals and few in the public had any idea that the party had no control over this.
The NDP nomination trap lost its impact when I registered as a nomination contestant. I filled out the form and voilà, I was officially listed by Elections Alberta as an NDP nomination candidate.
I ran my campaign with vigor. I released a series of campaign memes based on NDP principles and began to attract support and attention.
Suddenly and unsurprisingly parties had the means to have nomination candidates marked on the Elections Alberta website as having been declined by the party. The NDP could no longer condemn the UCP based on their aspiring nominees unless they wanted to admit that Cory Morgan was actually representative of them.
My action wasn’t simply to disarm the NDP nomination trap. I also wanted to demonstrate the absurdity of having the government involved with internal party matters at all.
As a private entity, a party should be able to hold their nominations and leadership races however they please. I couldn’t care less if a party chose their candidates through a rock paper scissors match or with a massively regulated race. It is my choice as an individual as to whether or not a party is worth supporting or an internal race is worth voting in. Parties will create regulations to suit their needs and the electorate at large will make the final judgment on election day.
Elections need to be simplified. Parties have 28 days to get their messages out and I would rather the messaging was focused on actual policy rather than jousting over who may or may not have run afoul of party regulations that never should have existed in the first place. I want to hear from parties rather than a horde of PACs as well. There is enough information to digest as it is.
I can understand the reasons to distrust the UCP as they legislate on electoral reform. Repairing the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act may indeed be in the interest of the UCP. Repairing that act will also be in the interest of us all. The NDP made a mess of it and it needs to be fixed.
Ground-level democracy is too important to get the government involved in the regulation of it at the party level.