25 October 2010

Calgary needs Winnipeg's election rules

With the election now behind us, this is a good time for Calgarians to reflect on the rules that govern the choosing of their civic leaders. Democracy requires, indeed essentially is, political equality, and a key factor in determining political equality is money. Sound campaign rules will therefore ensure equitable funding for candidates.

Unfortunately, the rules governing Calgary elections fail miserably to do that. Crafted by the province—cities being creatures of the provinces—the rules echo those applying to provincial elections which are the most lenient in the country. The Conservative government, beneficiary of major corporate largesse, has no intention of killing its golden geese. The most prolific of those geese is the development industry, the largest donor to both the provincial conservatives and to amenable municipal candidates.

Big spending doesn't guarantee victory, of course. In the recent Calgary election, the winner, Naheed Nenshi, was heavily outspent by his major rival, the development industry-backed Ric McIvor. Nonetheless, it is a significant factor.

Calgary might look to Winnipeg to see how to minimize the corruption of local politics by vested interests. Actually, we have to look beyond Winnipeg to the Manitoba government which recently passed the Municipal Conflict of Interest and Campaign Financing Act. Article 93.6(1) of the Act states "No person or organization other than an individual normally resident in Manitoba shall make a contribution to a registered candidate," thus taking corporations out of the election picture. The Act also amended the City of Winnipeg Charter to limit contributions to $1,500 for candidates for mayor and $750 for candidates for councillor.

If candidates collect surplus funds, the Act requires those funds be paid to the municipality and held "in trust on behalf of the candidate for use by the candidate in the next general election." In Calgary, candidates are allowed to keep their surplus funds for any purpose they like, an unfortunate incentive to exploit elections in order to line their pockets.

In order to encourage election contributions from citizens, Article 93.17(1) of the Act allows city councils to pass a bylaw that entitles donors to a credit on their municipal taxes or a rebate of part of their donation. Winnipeg offers
a 75 per cent rebate on contributions under $300. Councils are also allowed to establish programs that reimburse candidates for a part of their campaign expenses.

As Manitoba's Municipal Conflict of Interest and Campaign Financing Act demonstrates, improving democracy is possible if the will is there. In Alberta, it doesn't seem to be. Calgarians who want fair election rules must wake up their provincial politicians and point them east.

No comments:

Post a Comment