Wednesday, 17 August 2016 11:55

Delicate balance as politicians move forward with legislation that could help them, but hurt the public

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With an economy in the tanks and new stories every week of different sectors facing emerging struggles, it is never a good time for a government “to introduce controversial legislation.

Alberta’s New Democrat Party  is deciding to move forward with some of its own controversial policies even though it may not be the best timing.
When the NDP came to power more than a year ago, no one was likely more surprised than their own members. Rookie MLAs — many of whom likely never thought they would be sitting in the Legislature — had to scramble to learn the ropes of government and better understand what being in power would look like from day to day. There is also a little bit of a race on, with the next provincial election just under three years away, for the NDP to, not only prove itself as a viable option the next go-round, but make some important and lasting changes to legislation in case the party can’t earn a majority and govern again.
That is likely one reason why there has been so much change in such a short time. One of the more recent possible changes is to the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act. The amendment would see taxpayers’ dollars given to political parties or candidates who receive 10 per cent of votes during provincial elections. These people or parties would be reimbursed up to 50 per cent of their eligible campaign expenses.
Outrage ensued — as expected — from opposition parties including the Wildrose. In a news release from that party Aug. 10, Wildrose officials said with record job losses, the last thing Albertans expect is for taxpayers to fund campaign spending.
“This is absolutely the wrong time for MLAs to be having the debate. Albertans are hurting and are looking for ways for MLAs to put their best interests first. This just shows how increasingly out of touch this NDP government is becoming with working families across the province,” said Wildrose House Leader Nathan Cooper.
Who the NDP is stepping in line with is provinces across the country and the federal government. The practice of using taxpayer dollars to refund political parties and candidates already takes place in most other places in Canada.
In Saskatchewan for example, political parties and candidates receive taxpayer-funded rebates if they earn 15 per cent of the vote.
A September 2015 National Post story about reimbursement to political candidates, pointed out that, “Federal political parties will be reimbursed tens of millions of dollars by taxpayers for their election expenses without having to provide any receipts or supporting documents detailing their costs...”
At that time, the Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand was urging for changes to the system so some type of supporting documents would be mandatory for reimbursement.
A recent Alberta government’s Ethics and Accountability Committee meeting saw NDP MLAs also move to put a cap of $1.6 million for parties to spend on an election, or $0.60 cents per elector. Again, Wildrose MLAs were critical of this move, saying it would tilt elections in the NDP’s favour and that political parties should be able to spend the money they raise.
That’s all well and good, but a cap on spending would also result in a cap on the amount of taxpayer money returned to political parties if the NDP’s amendment to the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act as mentioned previously, is passed this fall.
What Albertans should be aware of is they can still have a say on whether any of these proposed changes are approved.
After the amendments were put forward, NDP MLA Jessica Littlewood, the committee chair, said the proposal is among a set of recommendations that are “not set in stone.”
MLAs plan to consult with constituents before the motion is debated in the legislature this fall.
If Albertans truly do believe taxpayer-funded rebates to political parties and candidates is a bad idea — which the Wildrose has estimated based on the results of the last election would have been about $7.3 million — then now is the time to say so.
Rose Sanchez is assistant managing editor with the Prairie Post. Contact her with your comments about this opinion piece at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor