UCP Plan for Stronger Democracy Includes Recall, Fixed Election Dates, Banning Big Money & Floor Crossings, Free Votes, Better Decorum, Senate Elections
EDMONTON, AB (February 14, 2019): To strengthen democracy and accountability in Alberta, a United Conservative government would make sweeping democratic reforms – including the adoption of an MLA recall law and a ban on big money in Alberta politics.
“Albertans want their MLAs to be accountable to them. That’s why a United Conservative government would introduce a Recall Act allowing voters to fire their MLA in between elections if they have lost the public’s trust,” Kenney said.
“The power to fire politicians through recall petitions exists in many other countries and most US states. We would model our recall law on one that has existed in British Columbia for three decades,” Kenney added. “Empowering citizens to hold their MLAs to account will strengthen Alberta democracy.”
Kenney also announced that a United Conservative government would finally get big money out of Alberta politics by imposing a $30,000 limit on how much a donor can contribute to political action committees (PACs), and closing the ‘AFL loophole’ by prohibiting groups affiliated with political parties from running PACs.
“The NDP promised to get big money out of politics. But they have done the opposite,” Kenney said. “Recently one union made a $270,000 contribution to a political advertising fund – the largest single political donation in Alberta history. And the Alberta Federation of Labour, which is a legal affiliate of the NDP, spent over $500,000 on political advertising last year.”
Kenney also committed a UCP government to:
- Establishing a fixed election date
- Allowing free votes for MLAs on everything not deemed a confidence vote or a key platform commitment
- Stopping floor crossing by requiring that MLAs resign and seek a byelection before they can change parties
- Improving decorum in the Legislature
- Renewing the Alberta Senatorial Selection Act, and holding elections for Senatorial nominees in 2021
- Amending the Taxpayer Protection Act to require a referendum before a carbon tax can be introduced in the future
- Introduce the End Partisan Government Advertising Act, making it illegal for governments to advertise in the run up to an election and to use tax dollars at any time, for partisan ads
“This is a bold package of reforms that will strengthen Alberta democracy,” Kenney said.
“Albertans sent a message in the last provincial election: they wanted more accountability and to clean up our politics. Instead we ended up with an NDP government that has brought the biggest money ever into Alberta politics, is campaigning on our tax dollars, betraying voters’ trust with floor crossings, lowering decorum in the Legislature, and forcing their MLAs to toe the party line on everything. In this election, it’s time for real change.”
Stronger Democracy: Backgrounder
In order to enhance our parliamentary democracy by allowing Albertans to directly address important matters and prevent abuse, a United Conservative Government would pass into law a bill giving Albertans the power to recall MLAs.
Recall legislation exists in over a dozen countries, including the United Kingdom, where the Westminster Parliament adopted the Recall of MPs Act in 20151. Most US states have recall laws, which have been used successfully to remove elected officials over fifty times in the past century. An Alberta recall law was adopted in 1936, but repealed shortly thereafter.
In British Columbia, the Recall and Initiative Act was adopted in 1991. Twenty-six recalls have been attempted since then. In 1998, B.C. Liberal MLA Paul Reitsma was caught writing letters to newspapers under a fake name, criticizing political opponents and praising himself. Once he was discovered, a local recall campaign garnered over 25,000 signatures of the required 17,000. He decided to resign before becoming the first MLA to be recalled.
A United Conservative Government would introduce a Recall Act based on the provisions contained in the B.C. Recall and Initiative Act, which allow voters to remove their MLA and force a byelection if 40% of eligible voters in a constituency sign a recall petition no sooner than 18 months after an election2. A legislative committee will be invited to study the bill, consult widely, and make whatever amendments it deems appropriate to strike the right balance between maximizing accountability of MLAs to their constituents between elections, while preventing frivolous efforts to reverse the result of elections.
Getting Big Money out of Politics
The NDP promised to “get big money out of politics,” but in fact their friends have brought the biggest money ever into Alberta politics.
Recently, one special interest group made a single contribution of $270,000 to its own third party advertising fund (commonly known as a political action committee, or PAC)3. The Alberta Federation of Labour, which is formally affiliated with the NDP,4 spent $550,000 on political advertising last year5. This is on top of the millions of tax dollars being spent by the NDP government on political advertising.
A United Conservative Government would get big money out of Alberta politics through the following measures:
Amend Section 44 of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act6 to impose a $30,000 limit on contributions that can be made by a single donor to registered third party advertisers (i.e. PACs) in one year. This will stop single donors from injecting potentially millions of dollars into Alberta politics. The $30,000 threshold is based on the limit for contributions to registered political parties that existed under the Act prior to 2016.
Amend Section 44 of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act to prohibit a trade union, employee organization, corporation or other organization that is legally affiliated with a registered party from operating or contributing to a third party advertiser (i.e. a PAC). This would close the “AFL loophole,” which allows a legal affiliate of the NDP to contribute an unlimited amount to advertising that supports the NDP. Closing this loophole would honour the legal principle that what cannot be done directly should not be done indirectly.
Pass an End Partisan Government Advertising Act to empower the provincial Auditor General to prohibit a government advertisement if the Auditor General determines that the primary objective of the advertisement is to promote the partisan political interests of the governing party. A precedent for such a law was created by the Ontario Legislature with its adoption of Bill 25 in 2004, An Act respecting government advertising7.
Establish a Fixed Election Date
The NDP is campaigning at taxpayers’ expense during what the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act calls the “campaign period,” while delaying an election because it does not want to face voters.
Alberta is one of only two provinces in Canada not to have fixed election date legislation (the other being Nova Scotia). Both the Canadian and United Kingdom Parliaments have also adopted into law specific fixed election dates.
Section 38(2) of the Alberta Elections Act creates a three month period during which an election can be held, but not a specific date. This gives the government an unfair advantage in setting the time of the election.
A United Conservative Government would amend Section 38 of the Elections Act to establish a specific date on which the election must be held (barring a non-confidence vote which may trigger an election).
Albertans want to know that their MLAs are truly representing them in the Legislature. While party cohesion is an important element of our Parliamentary democracy - especially on budget matters and election platform commitments - there is a widespread view that MLAs do not have enough flexibility to vote according to their best judgement, or to represent a clear local consensus.
The 1985 Special Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons (the McGrath Committee), noted that “strict party discipline had developed into an article of faith, despite the fact that very few votes actually involve true questions of confidence,” and recommended that “only explicit motions of confidence, or matters central to the government’s platform, be treated as such,” with the expectation that this would lead to more free votes.
While this proposed reform has never been fully adopted in Canadian legislatures, it has become both the convention and the law in the Westminster (UK) Parliament, where a government must lose an explicit confidence motion to cause a potential election9. This gives much greater latitude to MPs to vote freely, as not every vote is automatically considered a potential matter of confidence.
A United Conservative Government would make it clear on the first day of the next legislative session that only explicit matters of confidence, or matters central to its platform, will be treated as confidence measures. This will give government MLAs much greater scope to vote freely. All matters of conscience will be subject to free votes, consistent with centuries of Parliamentary convention.
Decorum in the Legislature
Albertans have had enough with angry, disrespectful politics. For years, visitors to the Legislature have been dismayed by constant heckling and loud desk thumping drowning out debate.
This is why the United Conservative Caucus has set a new standard for decorum by stopping heckling and desk thumping on the opposition benches, as well as demonstrating a more mature and respectful tone in debate. Unfortunately, these efforts have not been reciprocated by the NDP.
Under a United Conservative Government, amendments would be proposed to the Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly to stop the outdated tradition of desk-thumping. United Conservative MLAs will continue to be encouraged to raise the bar of decorum in the Legislature. We will aspire to have a Legislature that is a thoughtful place for an exchange of ideas, with the highest standards for mature and respectful debate of any legislature in Canada.
Since the adoption of the Alberta Senatorial Selection Act in 1989, Alberta voters have nominated ten candidates in four elections for appointment to the Senate. Five of those candidates were ultimately appointed, including current Senators Doug Black and Scott Tannas. In 2012, 1.3 million Albertans voted in the last Senate election, with the top candidate receiving 428,000 votes8.
The NDP government refused to renew the Senatorial Selection Act in 2017, meaning that it is no longer the law. In 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to appoint Mike Shaikh, Alberta’s remaining elected Senate nominee, instead appointing hand-picked senators who are reliably voting with his Liberal government.
Albertans should be proud of their leadership role in pushing for democratization of the Canadian Senate. With a larger share of seats in the Senate than in the House of Commons, Alberta’s representatives can be effective voices for our province in the federal Parliament. This is especially true if they have the moral and political legitimacy of having been elected. A strong, democratic Senate is in the interests of provinces like Alberta that do not have adequate weight in the House of Commons but important regional interests.
A United Conservative Government would renew the Alberta Senatorial Selection Act, and will plan to hold Senate nomination elections concurrent with the 2021 municipal elections.
Ban Floor Crossing
Albertans are frustrated with MLAs who disregard their electoral mandate by “crossing the floor,” i.e. joining a political party other than the one for which they were elected. In particular, the notorious mass floor crossing of 2014 damaged the confidence that Albertans have in the value of their vote.
There is now a strong convention in the Westminster (UK) Parliament that any MP seeking to join another party must first resign, and run under that new party’s banner in a byelection.
A United Conservative Government would introduce a motion at the beginning of the next legislative session calling for this practice to be observed by any Member before they can cross the floor to join another party.
The United Conservative Caucus will not accept an MLA from another party seeking to join its caucus, unless that MLA first resigns and is elected under the UCP banner in a byelection.
Taxpayer Protection Act
Jason Kenney successfully lobbied Ralph Klein’s government to adopt the Taxpayer Protection Act in 1995, which requires that a referendum be held before a sales tax can be imposed on Albertans.
In 2015, the NDP imposed the largest tax hike on Albertans in history, the carbon tax. They misled Albertans about their carbon tax scheme in the previous election. As a tax on the consumption of energy, it is arguably a form of sales tax.
A United Conservative Government would immediately repeal the NDP carbon tax. To prevent a future government from imposing a carbon tax without the consent of voters, a United Conservative Government would amend the Taxpayer Protection Act to require a referendum on any proposed future carbon tax.