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Mayor Nenshi lukewarm to province’s proposed changes to campaign financing

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said there are hits and misses in the province’s Bill 29, and it could have been a net positive – barring one major omission.

Bill 29, the Local Authorities Election Amendment Act, addresses campaign financing. The intent is to “level the playing field” for incoming candidates and in their campaigns against incumbents.

“The next round of local elections will be critical for the future of Alberta. These changes are about levelling the playing field, so the best candidates for local office – regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum – are running and winning,” said Kaycee Madu, Alberta’s Minister of Municipal Affairs, in a prepared release.

Among the proposed changes, campaign surpluses over $1,000 must be donated to charity. Candidates have been allowed to carry that money over in trust to the next election. That’s a nest egg that puts them ahead of any new challengers, Nenshi said.

“I have long said that you should not be able to carry your surpluses forward for elections because it gives the incumbents an advantage because they’re already starting way ahead of the starting line,” Nenshi said.

“As I read the amendments now you have to delete your surplus after the election, which I think is a great thing.”

Multiple donations, multiple candidates – one citizen

The ability to donate to multiple candidates, up to $5,000 per person drew mixed reviews from the mayor. The province did the right thing allowing a citizen to donate to more than one candidate. But, Mayor Nenshi thought the $5,000 limit was too high.

He said before the $5,000 limit was set, there were rarely $5,000 donations made to candidates. Once it was put in, it set the donation bar higher.

“And as a result, the average price for a councillors’ race in Calgary went from about $25,000 to over $100,000 in one election cycle,” Nenshi said. He said the limit should be set at $1,000 or $2,000.

Two other additions allowed for freedom of speech for third party advertisers by removing “political advertising” from the Act. Nenshi said this is fine, but spending limits should have been put in place. He said you don’t want special interest groups spending “a ton of money” destroying someone’s personal reputation.

Other changes included candidates being able to self-finance their campaigns up to $10,000. Also an increase to the amount that can be raised outside of the campaign cycle from $2,000 to $5,000.

The big miss

Mayor Nenshi said the province missed the mark in removing a clause from the previous bill that required campaign finance disclosures before election day.

The Alberta NDP also revised the Local Authorities Election Amendment Act in 2018. That when the disclosure rule was put i

In the province’s release, they said this means “(candidates) can spend their time on their main priority – running for office.”

Anyone who receives $50,000 or more in contributions, or spends more than $50,000 will be required to have their finance statements audited prior to submission to the municipality.

“People need to know who donated to your campaign,” said Nenshi.

“That is a massive regressive step backwards.”

Nenshi said that without that being put back in, he couldn’t support this new legislation.

In many ways, Mayor Nenshi said this accomplishes what it set out to do – encourage and enable more people to participate in democracy.

But it has the one major shortcoming – the disclosures.

“I would have said that this is a net positive improvement,” Nenshi said.

“But removal of that disclosure requirement actually is a massive step backwards.”