30 October 2012

Has Mr. Katz done Alberta democracy a favour?

Alberta has the laxest election funding rules in the country, rules designed to favour the rich. Toward the end of this spring's election campaign, billionaire Daryl Katz nicely illustrated this corruption of democracy when he provided a cheque for $430,000 to the Conservatives, almost a third of the party’s total fundraising, to cover the combined generosity of the Katz family and friends.

As it turns out, this is the same Mr. Katz who wanted the provincial government to cough up $100-million for a new arena for his hockey team, the Edmonton Oilers, as well as the OK for a casino license. Premier Redford has stated, to her considerable credit, that the money will not be forthcoming and furthermore she is opposed to "direct provincial government funding" for any professional sports arena. (Although note her use of the word "direct"—she has said she is not opposed to cities using their provincial infrastructure grants for that purpose.)

Nonetheless, democracy means the political equality of citizens and equality is mocked when the very rich are allowed to swamp the system with their largesse. Conservatives have in the past received as much as 70 per cent of their funding from corporations. That's plutocracy, not democracy. Elections, like courts, must not only exercise equality but they must appear to exercise equality.

Alberta's election funding rules—excessive limits on donations and no limits on spending—encourage anything but equality. Perhaps, just perhaps, the embarrassment caused by the Katz donation, combined with outrage from the opposition parties and the electorate, will push the Conservative government into enacting democratic rules.

At the very least, it ought to ban contributions from corporations and other institutions and limit contributions from individuals to an amount an average citizen can afford. Or, it could fund political parties' election expenses entirely out of the public purse. If we assume that half of Albertans pay income tax (a rough but reasonable assumption), then if every taxpayer added a mere two dollars per annum to his or her taxes, over four years this would amount to about $16-million—over fifty per cent more than the total spent by all parties in the 2012 election.

Would Albertans object? That depends on whether or not they believe democracy is worth two dollars a year, the price of a cup of coffee. I suspect most do. On their tax form, they would of course be allowed to specify which party or parties would get their two dollars.

The ball, as they say, is in your court, Premier Redford.

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