Ms McPherson: Thank you, Madam Chair. Obviously, I need to meditate more so I can be more present. I do have another amendment I would like to introduce.
The Chair: This is amendment A8.
Ms McPherson: I’d like to move that Bill 23, An Act to Renew Local Democracy in Alberta, be amended in section 51 in the proposed section 147.22 (a) in subsection (3), by adding “Subject to subsection (4),” before “Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply” and (b) by adding the following after subsection (3):
(4) Subject to subsection (5), an elected authority may, by passage of a bylaw on or before June 30 of the year following the year in which a general election occurs, adjust the amounts specified in subsection (3) to which subsections (1) and (2) do not apply for
(a) that local jurisdiction, or
(b) one or more wards in that local jurisdiction.
(5) An elected authority in adjusting the amounts specified in subsection (3) may consider only
(a) the number of electors in that local jurisdiction or its wards, and
(c) the geographic size of that local jurisdiction or its wards.
(6) A bylaw made under subsection (4) may not increase either amount specified in subsection (3) to an amount greater than $7500.
This amendment makes candidacy more accessible to new participants by addressing the $2,000 precampaign fundraising and spending limit proposed in the bill for nonincumbents. This amendment would allow local election authorities to set precampaign fundraising and spending limits according to local conditions if they do not find that the default $2,000 limit is appropriate for their circumstances. On the one hand, incumbents in large cities have a huge advantage in using public resources to communicate with electors, which can be worth far more than $2,000. On the other hand, some local positions in remote areas struggle to attract any attention or candidates, so the $2,000 limit may be too high. We also need to consider how many electors must be reached and how they’re distributed in a local jurisdiction or ward. Travelling around a large municipality has different costs than canvassing apartments.
The amendment would enable an elected authority to set the precampaign spending limit well in advance of future elections so that the limit is known to challengers ahead of time. Practically speaking, in the absence of a sensible precampaign limit, folks interested in becoming candidates might choose to be really active in their own communities on a particular issue, to become well known that way. Meanwhile they’re raising and spending unlimited funds to get attention and collect information about potential voters, and all they have to do is declare their candidacy at the last minute in order to avoid this $2,000 precampaign limit.
This amendment was born of conversations with recently elected municipal officials who expressed concerns about the ability of people who are not incumbents to be able to be elected. It was identified that the $2,000 limit really was a problem. It would prevent people from being encouraged to put their names forward. Democracy, you know, dictates that positions should be available to people to take a chance, to put their name forward. Based on that, I would encourage all members of the Assembly to support this amendment.
The Chair: The hon. minister.
Mr. S. Anderson: Thank you, Madam Chair. Although I understand the intent of this proposed amendment, unfortunately I cannot support it. We’ve given this particular section a lot of thought and consideration, and we feel that this is an adequate amount to allow individuals to take part in precampaign activities.
I’d like to remind all members that one of the key intentions of Bill 23 is to reduce the impact of big money in the local election process and make running for office more accessible to those without deep pockets. Increasing the amount of money that can be spent in the years leading up to the campaign period isn’t consistent with that objective. I would also point out that increasing the amount that can be spent prior to the official campaign period generally tends to create a significant advantage for incumbents whereas our intent is to create a more level playing field for all candidates.
I also worry that this proposed amendment will create greater confusion across the province and even within individual communities because not only could each municipality and school board have the potential to have different limits, but those amounts could vary between individual wards within local jurisdictions, and that would make transparency and clarity for local electors much more difficult to achieve.
For all those reasons, I am not able to support this amendment.
The Chair: Any other members wishing to speak to amendment A8?
Hearing none, I will call a vote.
[Motion on amendment A8 lost]