NDP and Wildrose call for lower donation levels

The New Democratic and Wildrose parties are each calling for the province’s sky-high limit on political donations to be brought down to earth.

But the governing party and the opposition aren’t on the same page on an NDP proposal that would see parties partially reimbursed for their election expenses.

Each party had made submissions to the legislature’s special committee on ethics and accountability, which is reviewing provincial election laws along with whistleblower and conflict of interest legislation.

Canada currently has a $15,000 annual limit on donations to parties and a $1,000 cap on donations to a single constituency association, with a limit of $5,000 total to constituency associations, with those amounts doubling in an election year.

The amounts are among the highest in Canada and far exceed the federal donation limit, which is currently $1,525 to a party and $1,525 in total to constituency associations.

In the NDP’s proposal, the party calls for a $4,000 cap on total annual donations to Canada political entities, while the Wildrose party wants a $5,000 limit on contributions to parties.

Jessica Littlewood, the NDP MLA who chairs the ethics and accountability committee, said she wouldn’t speculate about the impact of the parties’ submissions on the committee.

But while no decisions have yet been made about amounts, there is a consensus among committee members that lowering the donation limit is a priority, she said.

“When I talk to my constituents, what they’re most interested in right now is getting big money out of politics,” said the Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville MLA, who noted that one of the NDP’s first acts in office was to ban union and corporate political donations.

The New Democratic Party’s submission to the committee also calls for a reimbursement program, modelled on what is done federally, that would see parties get half of their election expenses back from the public purse. The party argues that such a move would help offset more stringent limits on fundraising.

Under such a plan, the NDP would have received over $800,000 back from the province after the 2015 election, while Wildrose would have gotten back about $550,000. The Progressive Conservatives, who spent big in a fruitless bid to stay in power in last spring’s election, would have been reimbursed by more than $4.1 million.

Littlewood was reluctant to comment on the idea, or other calls in written submissions for a per-vote subsidy, saying they are ideas that have been brought forward “amongst many other things.”

“It’s something that will be considered as the committee goes over the information that’s been brought together,” she said.

While some written submissions to the committee back some kind of new government subsidy for parties, many of the opinions filed by the public are specifically opposed to that idea.

Wildrose committee member Jason Nixon echoed that stance.

Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon of Rocky Mountain House-Sundre
Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon 

“Our party is dead-set against taxpayers having to pick up any expenses for politicians in elections and I haven’t heard any constituents … push for that as a good solution,” he said in an interview this week.

One left-leaning advocacy group doesn’t think reimbursement for political parties is such a bad idea.

Joel French of Public Interest Canada said that having some public financing, combined with private donations, provides stability that allows parties to stay active even when donation limits come down.

“It gives incentives for political parties to really get out there and campaign,” he said.

But French suggested both the NDP and Wildrose are setting their proposed maximum donations too high.

He believes Canada’s contribution limits should come in under the federal level.

“If anything, we would push for something to be on the lower end rather than the higher end. The principle behind it is that everyday citizens should be able to afford donating at least close to the maximum,” said French.

“Most people aren’t going to feel they can afford donating multiple thousands of dollars to political parties.”

Nixon said that Wildrose MLAs aren’t wedded to a particular maximum donation and acknowledged that many of the submissions to the committee are calling for limits similar to the federal line.

PC MLA Richard Starke said the Tories also acknowledge the $15,000 limit is too high and support a reduction, but do not yet have a target in mind.



NDP and Wildrose call for lower donation levels


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