23 May Bill 15: Tax Statutes Amendment Act, 2017
Mr. Clark: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. That is a tough act to follow. Boy. I will try to ramp it up just a little so that I can kind of go over and above my constituency neighbour from Calgary-Currie there, and I will do that by proposing an amendment. I will hand the requisite number of copies to you and wait for you to receive it.
The Deputy Chair: Hon. member, I have the original. Please go ahead.
Mr. Clark: Thank you very much. The amendment itself is simple.
It reads that I will move that Bill 15, Tax Statutes Amendment Act, 2017, be amended in section 2 by striking out subsections (6) and (10). Those sections are the two sections that deal with political tax credits applying to both leadership and nomination contests.
I have a number of reasons why I believe this should be removed from the bill. As members will recall, I was a member of the Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee, which reviewed all aspects of our province’s campaign finance rules, and at no time, in my recollection, did that committee ever recommend or even discuss whether political contribution tax credits ought to be exten-ded to leadership contests or nomination contests. We did have a long and robust debate about whether or not leadership contests or, more fittingly, nomination contests should in fact be included in the contribution limit. Certainly, in the global $4,000 contribution limit there was considerable disagreement as to whether or not both leadership but especially nomination contests should be included in that.
So I’m curious why this shows up in this particular bill. And then I thought: well, did we think about the level of the limit for political contributions? The answer is that, yes, we did. We had a long debate and discussion about the political contribution tax credit and wheth-er, in fact, it’s fair when you compare that tax credit to charitable tax credits. There was a strong belief, led particularly by the Member for Vermilion-Lloydminster, that charitable tax credits, in fact, should be increased or political tax credits should be decreased or both. I happen to agree with that.
Now, this amendment won’t specifically do that. We can’t do that. I couldn’t bring that specific amendment to this bill because this bill does not contemplate any changes to the charitable tax credit provisions. So, unfortunately, I was unable to bring that particular amendment as much as I would have liked to.
We actually talked about lowering political contribution tax credits, not increasing that. Then I thought: well, perhaps this is just the government aligning the province of Alberta with other juris-dictions in this country. Perhaps the federal government, at the very least, that has a reasonably similar donation restriction to what Alberta currently has or is in the process of putting into place, or other provinces, surely, would at least have this in place. The answer, Madam Chair, is that no other province in this country has a tax receipt for any donation to a leadership contest. No other province in this country has donation tax receipts to nomination contests, and neither does the federal government. Alberta will stand alone on this particular provision.
So I asked myself: “Why would that be? What is this government trying to achieve by extending political contribution tax credits to leadership contests in particular but also to nomination contests?” I think: what could be to this government’s advantage in doing that? Well, very few NDP MLAs faced a nomination contest. I don’t know how many on this side faced a nomination contest in the last election, but other parties tend to have more nomination contests. Now, perhaps this next go-round we’ll see a flurry of nomination contests on the NDP side of things. Entirely possible. Entirely possible. So far as we know, I suppose anything is possible in Alberta politics these days. Things seem to be weirder and weirder by the day.
Madam Chair, I suppose it’s possible that the government will face a leadership contest before the next election, but let’s just assume that’s unlikely. That leaves one – it’s currently two, but I suppose eventually one – party in this House that will be facing a leadership contest before the next election. Then we think: why would it matter if political contributions could be tax receipted for that particular campaign, especially because there’s the $4,000 aggregate limit? If people are donating to a leadership contest, even if there’s no tax receipt, that still counts against their global donation limit.
But then I think, you know, that if the dollars are going to go into leadership campaigns and there’s an incentive for doing that, more money goes into a leadership campaign and less money goes into the core party itself, so less money ends up in the coffers of that party to contest and fight the next election. I think there’s very clearly something that this government is trying to sneak in there.
Now, I don’t know, frankly, if my friends in the united conservative movement here, the two parties – I actually haven’t talked with them about their . . . [interjections] You would like me to say the UCP acronym? [interjections] You’re welcome. You’re welcome. Maybe I stand as the first person to read that into Hansard in this province, and if so, I feel like I really have left my mark. [laughter] Thank you. Thank you very much. I’m here all week. Back on task, my friends. It’s only Tuesday. Imagine how this week is going to go.
But, you know, the point is – and I think this is an important point – that Albertans in the process of the Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee and absolutely zero of my constituents or any Albertans I’ve talked with have said: “You know, Member, what is really important is that we make sure that more of my political contribution gets tax receipted at 75 per cent for the first $250, and 50 per cent of the next amount, and a third for the rest of that up to a fairly high limit. That’s the most important issue facing Alberta today. By the way, I’d also like you to sneak that in to an omnibus tax statutes amendment bill which is as boring as the day is long and most people aren’t going to really pay any attention to. We would really like for that to happen.”
Well, of course, Madam Chair, no one says that. But that’s what this government has done. They’ve snuck these changes in. Again, I haven’t talked to my hon. opposition colleagues. I don’t know what their perspective on this is. It doesn’t feel right to me.
So this amendment seeks to simply remove that provision from the bill. I think it improves the bill. I think it returns Alberta into alignment with every other province in this country and with the federal government. If we allow this to stay in, Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada to have this provision. It feels wrong because it is wrong, Madam Chair, and I would encourage both sides of the House to support this amendment.
Response to 29.2(a)
Mr. Clark: Thank you. I very briefly just want to respond to that. You know, given everything that’s gone on with election financing in this province, with tremendous respect to my colleague from Calgary-Currie, I just don’t believe them. I really don’t. I see a government that has tried to do everything they can to stack the deck in their favour for this upcoming election, whenever it may be.
I don’t know specifically what the motivation is. It feels wrong. It really, genuinely does. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
To the hon. Member for Sherwood Park, you know: the conversation that happened at the committee was very different from what we see here in this bill. At no time did it come up that tax receipts ought to be expanded. If anything, in fact, there was a discussion about tax receipts being contracted, about the donation limit, the amount of money you get in a tax receipt being reduced, not increased. Unfortunately, that was ruled to be out of order for that particular committee, so no motion was brought, although I do know for sure that the Member for Vermilion-Lloydminster had tried to bring exactly that amendment.
Again, absolutely no one that I know of has asked for this. When a government comes up with something out of the blue that absolutely no one asked for even if it was in their fiscal plan from the budget, I get very suspicious. I absolutely would not put it past the government to have thought through how this somehow may benefit them. Regardless, I don’t feel that it’s inappropriate, especially in this challenging fiscal time. Whether the numbers that we’re talking about here are large or not, this is money that ought not to be routed from Alberta taxpayer coffers into political party hands. That’s ultimately what this does, so that’s what my amendment seeks to change, to fix what is a flaw in what otherwise appears to be a housekeeping bill.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Clark: Well, this is fun. No one suggested that we should raise the $4,000 donation limit. No one suggested that we should change the current rules that require leadership campaigns to fully disclose all of their donors. The Member for Edmonton-Ellerslie should know that as a member of the Select Special Ethics and Account-ability Committee. That was a recommendation of that committee, and it also was in the legislation that this House passed last fall or it might even have been last spring. Nothing in this amendment would hide who donates to political campaigns or leadership campaigns. Nothing in this amendment would raise the $4,000 limit or put big money back into politics.
You know, it’s interesting. In year 1 of this government their theme was, “We’re taking big money out of politics,” every single thing. What day of the week is it? “We’re taking big money out of politics.” Today, well, what’s the temperature outside? “We’re making life better for Albertans.”
Dr. Turner: Two pipelines.
Mr. Clark: Oh, “Two pipelines.” I’m sorry. Thank you very much, Edmonton-Whitemud. I’d forgotten about two pipelines. There was one in the middle there.
I think year 3, speaking of pipelines – I imagine the theme for next year is going to be “Hoping to goodness the price of oil goes up,” and the theme in year 4 is just “I’m sorry about that.” I think that this government’s theme next year is going to be “Sorry about that.”
Look, let’s just be very clear on what the purpose of this is. Nobody asked for political parties’ leadership contests to be eligible for tax receipts. No one. It didn’t come in any of the written submissions to Select Special Ethics and Accountability. Absolutely no one anywhere in my constituency has asked me for that. I strongly suspect, if we’re all honest with ourselves, that not a single Albertan has asked us for that particular change, but here it is.
Let’s talk about money in politics. The changes this government made allow just three people donating the maximum $4,000 to a constituency association over four years to fund an entire campaign. If we want to have less influence in politics, I think we would all agree that having one MLA’s seat beholden to just three people is not a good thing. But that’s effectively what this government has done.
The other thing that this government has done, perhaps inadvertently, perhaps deliberately, is to enable or compel or even require the rise of super PACs, or political action committees, because so many restrictions have been placed on political contributions and political parties that the only possible way anyone can express their views is through a political action committee. So what do PACs do? Well, PACs attack. We see that all the time. It’s already happening in this province, and, heaven forbid, it’s going to happen in the next election. I don’t like it. I wish it wasn’t that way. It’s one of those unintended or possibly intended consequences of the electoral changes that this government has made.
I just want to speak to the comments from the Member for Calgary-Northern Hills. He talked about the total amount of money that was refunded for political contributions versus charitable contributions. That may very well be the case, that political contributions and charitable contributions are similar in terms of gross dollars, but I’d love to know: how many actual contributions? How many actual Albertans contributed to charity at the lower, I believe it’s 20 per cent rate versus the higher, 75 per cent rate of political contributions? The numbers, I’m sure, are wildly different. Albertans are incredibly charitable and generous people, and I know that they will donate, tens and hundreds of thousands of Albertans. I know it. Millions of Albertans, I suspect, will donate to charity every year, and far fewer will donate to political parties, yet the numbers are similar. That exactly proves my point that what we need to be doing is lowering the political contribution tax limits, raising the charitable contribution tax limits, and not sneaking in and, through an omnibus bill, expanding political contribution tax credits to places no one wants them. That’s what this amendment seeks to fix.
Let’s be very clear that this has nothing to do with reducing transparency, that this has nothing to do with putting big money back into politics. This only has to do with this government trying to sneak in changes that nobody wants for no good purpose that I can see except for some possible way of sticking it to the opposition for the process it looks like they’re about to go through.
With that, I would return to my seat and encourage all members of the House to please support this amendment. Thank you.