Editorial—Big Money Politics

I’ve been diving into Bill 81 lately.  For those not in Alberta, Bill 81, or the “Election Statutes Amendment Act, 2021”.  If you haven’t heard about this, the UCP government has passed legislation purportedly to make elections and election financing more fair in Alberta, and by “fair” they primarily mean “restricting organized labour from organized participation in the process”.

One of the things this legislation does is remove a protected “Third Party Advertiser” status from any organization that has leadership positions within a political party.  What the “Third Party Advertiser” status meant was that a group so organized could take any amount of money donated to it and use it for advertising during a political campaign. The UCP argued, not incorrectly, that allowing this essentially allowed a political party to easily side-step spending limits by planning strategy and spending within the political party, and then offloading it to the other organization.

Now, in Alberta, this basically means the Alberta Federation of Labour, as the Alberta NDP’s constitution specifically includes two seats for members from the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).  The AFL has indicated it will be looking at legal action to see if this law violates constitutional grounds such as freedom of association or expression.

But, the real flaw in this particular section of the legislation, however, is that it’s ultimately meaningless.  It simply requires the creation of a go-between group.  If someone, say, a member of the AFL, were to create a new, separate, organization called the “Alberta Federation of Labour Political Working Group”, whose members only include those nominated by the AFL, and then the NDP changes their bylaws to take members from this new organization instead, and things can proceed as normal with the AFL having enough legal separation to not fall afoul of the new changes, while the new group, that only exists to get around the law, not engaging in any political advertising activities.

The other issue you may have heard about is that the new law explicitly allows for people to buy memberships in other people’s names, and does not specifiy that any sort of consent is required. When I first heard about this, I was concerned because I thought it might be a more egregious end run around political contribution limits, since a person could sign up a huge number of people, and, under the previous law, political party memberships (up to $50) don’t count against your contribution limit.  However, that much, at least, was accounted for, as any additional memberships signed up count toward an individuals contribution limit.

But there remain other concerns with this issue.  It’s worth noting, for instance, that actions exactly like this are why the RCMP are still engaged in an investigation into the UCP leadership convention, where it is alleged that Jason Kenney or allies of his signed up many people without their knowledge, and then proceeded to engage in proxy votes for those same people at the convention.  And that’s ignoring what happens when a high profile figure finds themselves suddenly on the UCP membership rolls.   The potential for disruption and damage to people and political parties is immense, but, as usual, that’s not the primary concern of the Alberta government.

But that’s just me.  Meanwhile, here in the Voice, we’ve got a great interview with a student as our feature, and follow it up with not only a review of Barb Godin’s latest actual book, but an article from her on one of the challenges she’s run into as a female author.  A challenge that nobody should have to face at all, but it’s definitely worth the read.  Even though it makes me upset to think about it.

Of course, we also have a lot of great other stuff, including advice, events, reviews, and more!  Enjoy the read!