Tags: Providing Leadership & Accountability

Posted on Aug 6, 2016

Election spending limits help democracy

A hand dropping a ballot into a ballot box with the Alberta flag in the background.

Election spending limits help democracy

By Graham Sucha

Re: “A blow to democracy,” Editorial, Aug. 3.

First Published August 6, 2016 in the Calgary Herald.

I am privileged to be a member of a committee of MLAs from all political parties who are working together to modernize Alberta election laws to improve our democracy and to take big money out of politics.

Last year, our government met one of its most important election commitments by banning union and corporate donations for political parties through the passing of Bill 1, which received unanimous support in the legislature.

It was a great first step, but it was only a step. We now need to move forward to modernize our electoral laws. We are doing so through an all-party committee — the select special ethics and accountability committee — that is meeting throughout the summer. This committee was struck shortly after the election, with the support of the other parties, to take a look at what potential changes could be made in several important areas, among them, election laws and campaign financing.

I believe one of the most important things we can do to improve our electoral process is introducing campaign spending limits, and I am proud to champion that issue. That is why I presented proposed changes to the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.

My motions would put into place spending limits of roughly $1.6 million per registered party, and would put into place local candidate campaign spending limits of $40,000 for most constituencies, and $50,000 for northern constituencies. These changes would be indexed to inflation.

In doing so, this would bring Alberta in step with what has already been done in every other province.

Currently, Alberta stands alone as the only province in Canada without spending limits. Nine other provinces and the federal government have recognized that campaign spending limits reduce the dependence on big money, which, in turn, limits the ability of any one group or individual to have undue influence in the electoral process.

In my view, this clearly demonstrates a powerful sentiment felt across the country: elections should be won based on the quality of candidates, campaigns and ideas. They should not be governed based on the size of one’s bank account.

An electoral system with no controls on donations or spending will always favour wealthy political networks, giving incumbents an even greater advantage than they already have.

With few exceptions — the wave that swept our government to power in 2015 being one of them — the party that spends the most money wins.

One need only look south and witness the extremes of the American electoral process to see the abuses that can occur in a system with no bans on corporate and union donations, no limits on personal contributions and no limits on campaign spending. Is this the kind of system we want to mirror? Is this what we want to see for the future of democracy?

If big money can influence the outcomes of elections in one of the world’s great democracies, it can certainly happen here. What we have heard from Albertans has been very clear: big money cannot and should not dictate elections.

We believe that we should have a level playing field that ensures elected officials are accountable to their constituents, and not beholden to those with the deepest pockets.

I believe the figures I have proposed would still allow political parties and individual candidates to communicate with the electorate. We can find ways to be effective, and creative, and conduct effective election campaigns, without the risk of having big money dictate the results.

I am proud to be part of a government that has established an all-party process to modernize election laws and take big money out of politics for a fair and balanced electoral system.

Graham Sucha is NDP MLA for Calgary-Shaw.