Fair election system necessary

By Rod Loyola, MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie

First published in the Lamont Leader, Tuesday August 16, 2016.

 

Our government is strongly committed to creating a fair, democratic and modern electoral system that doesn’t put special interests ahead of average Albertans.

But we continue to face fierce resistance from those who think that old, outdated election laws shouldn’t be updated for the 21st century. They want to return to the days of back room deals where decisions were just political favours to pay off campaign donations.

As a member of the All-Party Task Force on Ethics and Accountability, I have brought forward a proposal to modernize our electoral system by introducing a rebate system for election expenses that exists at the federal level and with seven other provinces.

Rebates cannot be viewed in isolation. They are part of a series of improvements that are critical to any fair electoral system that includes banning union and corporate donations, setting limits on donations and on campaign spending, and closing loopholes in the law that don’t line up with the principles of transparency and accountability.

It is essential that we reduce the impact of special interest groups and not allow big money to continue influencing our electoral system. Our government has already banned corporate and union donations, but there is more to do. Under our current election laws, individuals can donate as much as $100,000 per fouryear election cycle and parties can spend as much money as they want. This needs to stop, which requires change.

Our efforts are being fiercely resisted and our ideas are being misrepresented by those on the committee who think that it’s okay to keep the old rules and old attitudes. There is nothing new about rebates. In fact, former Wildrose Party campaign manager Tom Flannagan made an impassioned pitch for these very reforms, including rebates, in an opinion piece he wrote for a national newspaper shortly after the 2012 election. He pointed out that the reforms we are now proposing would promote better democracy that better represent average Albertans. However, if you listen to the inflammatory rhetoric of the opposition parties, especially the Wildrose and Conservative Parties, you would think that there is something new and sinister about all of this.

But let’s consider some facts. When he was MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean‘s campaigns accepted more than $155,000 in rebates. Jason Kenney, the Conservative MP for Calgary Southeast who is currently running to be PC leader, has also accepted rebates for campaigns in excess of $150,000.

Similarly, the Saskatchewan Party and Brad Wall have accepted rebates as did former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives. All these individuals did it because they knew that rebates help promote our democracy by keeping big special interest donations out of politics. In short, there is nothing partisan about this approach to election fairness. It fact, it is just the opposite.

During the last election, we heard loud and clear from Albertans that they wanted to strengthen our democracy by getting big money out of politics. We’ve waited 44 years in this province for a fair election system, one where Albertans’ interests, not special interests, are heard and one where parties conduct business in the public eye, not in back rooms and one where big ideas and not big money determine the outcome. Let’s get down to work for the benefit of all Albertans.