Ask Her YYC, Parity YEG wants changes to Bill 29

Calgary, Edmonton election equity groups think new rules tilt elections favour of those with networks that can raise cash

Gillian Hynes promoting Ask Her at the Womens March Resource Fair, Jan. 18. CONTRIBUTED

A Calgary group drafting more female candidates into Calgary’s municipal election said proposed legislative changes to level the playing field have the opposite effect.

Calgary organization Ask Her YYC and the Edmonton group Parity YEG want the province to reconsider Bill 29.

In a statement released earlier this week, both organizations said that the proposed election changes hinder the chances of having diverse candidates in government.

It’s a concern because the organizations are attempting to tackle systemic barriers in politics.

What is Bill 29

Bill 29, The Local Authorities Election Amendment Act outlines election rules in municipalities, Métis Settlements, school boards and irrigation districts.

The proposals including allowing people to donate up to $5,000 per candidate and support as many candidates they want. This is something Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was in favour of.

Candidates will be allowed to self-contribute $10,000 per year to their own campaign, raise $5,000 per year outside of the campaign period (previously $2,000), donate campaign surpluses over $1,000 to charity and file disclosures after election day.

As well, it allows third-party advertisers to participate more freely with changes advertising rules.

“This bill was supposed to level the playing field. In reality, we think it’s going to do the opposite,” said Ask Her YYC president Gillian Hynes.

“These changes will impact who and how people are represented in 2021.”

The two main issues that they have is around the higher ceiling of contributions and transparency.

Political contributions

The higher ceiling benefits the wealthy and incumbents that are often male, said Hynes. It’s tougher for women because it minimizes the grassroots, valuable community experience that many women bring.

Women are already financially disadvantaged. They’re usually responsible for unpaid labour and earn less than men across the country. They’ve also been hit hard with lost jobs during the pandemic.

Hynes said that municipal government as the most accessible entry into politics for women. Financing and fundraising are the most difficult and intimidating aspects of campaigning. Changing the current rules creates a barrier for women, she said.

This is because women don’t have the same networks as men, or use them differently, which makes them less likely to receive cash from people or institutions.

“The power that money can influence, starts to dominate the conversation,” she said.

“That’s where we see the higher ceilings of money impact women and other underrepresented groups as well.”

Transparency

Hynes said the bill reduces transparency, particularly around third-party advertising. The concerns around transparency have the potential to open the doors to special interest groups.

“This is particularly concerning for those people who don’t look like your average political candidate, such as women or other underrepresented groups,” said Hynes.

Decreasing financial disclosures can undermine the importance of small donations and in-kind activities. This makes it difficult for financially under-resourced campaigns to succeed in using other methods to reach voters.

If there are no specific regulations targeting third-party advertisers, it allows candidates to leverage funding and relationships, which reduces transparency in the process.

Further consultation

Hynes said there are many groups that represent women and underrepresented groups. They want the province to consult with equity-seeking groups to look at how the new rules create barriers.

Part of the responsibility is on the public to raise their voice. Hynes said voter should ask candidates the tough questions about how they plan on representing diverse voices. As well as raising their voice and calling their MLAs,

It’s important that voters look at candidates who may not have access to a wealth of funds. Ask Her YYC and Parity YEG help women and other underprivileged groups to run.

“We want people to run, we want people to bring the grassroots experience and get into office,” said Hynes.

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