A year after Premier Ed Stelmach said he was considering electoral reforms to limit outside advertising during campaigns, a government backbencher is introducing a private members' bill that would do just that.
"What it does is, it opens up the process, it makes it more accountable and transparent," Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson said. "It also treats third parties exactly like political parties during election periods, so it sets up the same contribution limits that political parties have on them."
If Bill 205 is approved, trade unions, employee organizations, corporations and other organizations would have to register with the chief electoral officer before they advertise, and would have to reveal where all their money comes from and how it's spent.
Critics say Anderson's bill is a direct response to Albertans for Change, a group of unions that spent $2 million in 2008 on an anti-Conservative campaign.
After his party won 72 seats, leaving the Liberals and NDP with 11, Stelmach said he was considering legislation that would change electoral financing laws, including banning or limiting third-party spending during campaigns.
The legislation was never tabled, but Anderson's bill would bar money from being raised outside Alberta by third parties and fine those who break the rules.
"I'm not sure there ever was a real problem about anonymous ads. This piece of legislation may be dealing with a problem that never existed," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The Albertans for Change banner included McGowan's organization and the Alberta Building Trades Council, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and the United Nurses of Alberta. The advertising campaign accused Stelmach of having no plan.
Anderson said his bill has nothing to do with targeting unions, and could easily be used to limit rich individuals or oil companies, too.
Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald said he has many questions about the bill. "This bill as it's drafted, in my opinion, it's not fair and it's not balanced," he said. But NDP Leader Brian Mason said the bill doesn't go far enough.
"I don't support third-party financing in election campaigns at all," he said.
Edmonton Journal, Sat Apr 18 2009
Byline: Trish Audette