The province wants to prohibit corporate and union donations in municipal and school board elections.
On Monday, the provincial government unveiled a new piece of legislation, An Act To Renew Local Democracy in Alberta, which government officials say aims to make local elections more fair.
St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron said while she is fine with keeping big corporate money out of municipal elections, the change could have a big impact on how local candidates fund-raise.
The new rules will bring municipal elections more in line with the provincial rules around campaigning, but Heron said there is still one big difference.
“The big difference is you can collect individual donations provincially and give out a tax receipt. You can’t at a local level,” Heron said.
“Businesses can write it off. Individuals cannot write it off, so they need a tax receipt. So now we aren’t getting the tax receipt or the corporation, so we will get nothing,”
Heron said the change will “absolutely” have a big impact on fundraising when it comes to local elections.
Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson introduced the bill after a summer of consultation.
“After consulting over the summer with Albertans, we have taken their feedback and are proposing these updates to get big money out of local elections, make it easier for Albertans to vote, and create a more transparent election process,” Anderson said.
Heron noted when municipalities were consulted on the legislation, they said they were fine with getting rid of corporate donors but were very clear they wanted tax receipts included in the legislation.
Although tax receipts have not been legislated yet, officials say the option is still on the table.
Along with removing corporate and union donations, individuals will be limited to spending $4,000 in donations during the municipal campaign period. Individuals will need to make donations out of their own pocket and cannot be reimbursed by a corporation to skirt around the rules.
The Alberta election commission can investigate and issue fines of $10,000 to anyone who is trying to go around the rules.
St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud said it is important for the province make these changes to get the deep pockets out of the election, and so individuals – whose voices and votes matter the most – are funding campaigns.
The province has not set spending limits for campaigns yet, but officials said they will be decided through regulations, as it is challenging to have the same spending caps for summer villages and large cities.
Campaign periods will be reduced from four years to a one-year period, beginning on Jan. 1 of the election year, although candidates can accept $2,000 before the period to cover some early campaign activities such as door-knocking.
Heron said incumbents, who potentially want to run again, could already be collecting money. The mayor said so far she hasn’t collected funds for a re-election campaign but she knows that in other cities, politicians have already started collecting donations.
Renaud said the province heard concerns about level playing fields during their consultations and while she was a member of the Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee, which looked into election financing.
“We continued to hear concerns about level playing fields. If you have people who have a three-year head start on other candidates, you really aren’t going to have a level playing field,” she said.
The bill will also require self-funded candidates to submit financial disclosures and detailed expense reporting will be required by all candidates. Municipalities will need to post the names of candidates and third-party advertisers within 48 hours of the nomination closing.