CALGARY, AB (February 1, 2019): On the first day of the legal campaign period, the United Conservatives called on the NDP to start an election immediately, and to stop campaigning with tax dollars.
The UCP also announced their first election platform commitment: a law that will ban governments from advertising in the run up to an election, and from using tax dollars for partisan ads at any time.
“Today is the first day a provincial election legally can be called. I urge the Premier to stop campaigning with our tax dollars, stop running NDP ads at the public’s expense, and let the people decide,” said Jason Kenney. “The NDP is spending millions of tax dollars running partisan ads while trying to bribe Albertans with our own money. Enough is enough. Stop clinging to power. Albertans want change, not an endless taxpayer-funded campaign.”
Kenney announced that if elected, the United Conservatives will pass an End Partisan Government Advertising Act that will:
- Empower the Auditor General to prohibit at any time government advertisements deemed to be partisan; and
- Amend the Elections Act to extend the current blackout on non-essential government advertising during the election to include the “election advertising period” as defined by the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, which begins on December 1st before an election year.
“The NDP ran on a promise to get big money out of Alberta politics. Instead, their campaign is being run on big money – money that belongs to taxpayers, not the NDP.”
Kenney also pledged that a future UCP government will review all contracts signed by the NDP government from now through to Election Day, in order to protect taxpayers.
“A government that is openly campaigning during the legal campaign period should only sign contracts that are strictly necessary. We will not let the NDP get away with signing sweetheart deals with their friends in the dying days of this government. If elected, a UCP government will closely review all contracts signed as of February 1, 2019, to ensure that they were entered into in good faith, are in the public interest, and respect value for our tax dollars,” Kenney said.
End Partisan Government Advertising Act
Except during the election period, there is no statutory prohibition on Alberta Government advertising that is clearly designed to advance the incumbent party’s partisan agenda. This means that the party in power can use public resources to promote its partisan interests through taxpayer-funded advertising, including in the run up to an election, during which time third party groups are strictly limited in how much they can spend on advertising their message.
Currently, the NDP government is spending millions of dollars on ads that transparently advance its partisan agenda, for instance with its “Made in Alberta” campaign.
According to Section 44.1 of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, the “election advertising period” commences on “December 1 in the year immediately preceding the year in which a general election is held and ending at the end of the polling day.” During this period, third party advertisers (commonly known as political action committees) are limited to spending $150,000.
However, there are no constraints on how much the Government of Alberta can spend on advertising during the “election advertising period,” until the election formally begins with the issuance of the writ, which can be as late as May 3. This means that the government can use unlimited publicly funded advertising for up to five months prior to the call of an election to advance its partisan interests, while citizens can only spend up to $150,000 to advertise political messages over the same period.
Alberta’s Election Act was amended in 2017 to prohibit non-essential government advertising during the actual election campaign. Section 134.1 of the Election Act prohibits a government department or provincial corporation from advertising or publishing any information about its programs unless the advertisement or publication is:
- required by law
- required because it relates to important matters of public health or safety
- required in order to solicit proposals or tenders for contracts or applications for employment
- a continuation of earlier publications or advertisements and is required for ongoing programs
The name, voice, or image of a candidate who was an MLA immediately before the writ of the election shall not appear in a government advertisement or publication.
A United Conservative government will pass into law an End Partisan Government Advertising Act to empower the provincial Auditor General (AG) to prohibit a government advertisement if the AG determines that the primary objective of the advertisement is to promote the partisan political interests of the governing party. A precedent for such a law was created by the Ontario Legislature with its adoption of Bill 25 in 2004, An Act respecting government advertising.
The End Partisan Government Advertising Act will also amend Section 134.1 of the Election Act to extend the blackout on non-essential government advertising from the “election period” (i.e. beginning with the issuance of the writ) to the “election advertising period” as defined by Section 44.1 of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, (i.e. beginning on December 1.) This would apply to all non-essential government advertising within Alberta, not just advertising deemed partisan by the Auditor General.
The UCP continues to support advertisements outside of Alberta’s borders promoting pipelines. It is unfortunate the Premier waited so long and only started promoting pipelines after the B.C. NDP significantly ramped up its obstruction of the Trans Mountain expansion project. Albertans are already sold on the merits of pipelines, and such advertisements within the province are not required. Ontario’s model legislation does not apply to advertisements for which the primary target audience is located outside of the province.