By Nikki Jamieson
Alta Newspaper Group – Coaldale
The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association has expressed disappointment over Bill 29.
In a Zoom press conference in late July, AUMA vice-president Cathy Heron said that Bill 29: Local Authorities Election Amendment Act (LAEA) 2020 did not include the three requests that the association recommended.
“AUMA asked the Albertan government to respect the principles Alberta’s municipal leaders endorsed to safeguard fair and democratic local elections,” said Heron.
The three changes AUMA asked to be included were: keep big money from manipulating local elections by setting contribution limits that are achievable and realistic for grassroots supporters; allow municipalities to continue setting bylaws for candidates to disclose their full donor list and the amounts contributed before the municipal election date in 2021; and make third-party advertising accountable by outlining clear declarations of contributors and by limiting the contribution amounts.
Bill 29 was given first reading on June 24, and was given third reading on July 21. It proposed a number of changes to legislation regarding local elections. In a June press release, Minister of Municipal Affairs Kaycee Madu said that “these changes are about levelling the playing field”.
Heron said AUMA disagreed with that statement, and they think it will have the opposite affect.
“Every candidate is required to track contributions, and it’s a very easy thing to put those contributions on your campaign (website).”
While AUMA originally supported the government’s announcement regarding Bill 29 changes, in a press release they said that they were assured by Municipal Affairs that they were willing to consider reasonable amendments in order to make local democracy more accountable, and better consultation is needed.
“We had supported the bill initially with the expressed understanding that reasonable amendments would be properly considered,” said Barry Morishita, mayor of Brooks and AUMA president, in an interview afterwards. “I think if anybody watched the committee debate in the legislature, you can clearly see that they were not considered very seriously, and that speaks to the problem.”
Stressing that AUMA does not have a “political ax to grind”, and are presenting their member’s views and are trying to protect the integrity of local elections. They are also following the UCP’s own platform, which pledged to not allow big money to influence outcomes in elections, according to Morishita.
Some of the changes AUMA approves of in Bill 29 include eliminating campaign war chests, setting a “reasonable” amount for people to spend in non-campaign years, and allow candidates to continue to file disclosures after election day, as required, although for the latter Morishita says they don’t think the timing “speaks to the true reason for having disclosure”.
“The direction on a lot of these things are good. We just think the amendments that we proposed made this bill stronger and spoke more clearly to a couple of principles — one is the transparency and accountability principle, and the other is keeping the potential of having big money influence local elections at a minimum and mitigate that as much as possible.”