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Alberta throne speech: NDP's new political funding rules turn the Tories' world upside down

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Rachel Notley

There weren't any real surprises in the Notley Government's first Speech from the Throne yesterday, although the ban on corporate and union donations expected by nearly everyone nevertheless seemed to come as a deep shock to the still-reeling Progressive Conservatives.

It's only been about 40 days and 40 nights since we all awoke to find Rachel Notley's New Democrats were the unexpected victors of the May 5 provincial election. But as any self-respecting Albertan knows, an entire planet can be flooded and washed clean in that short span of time, or at least a Natural Governing Party can be relegated to third-party status in the Legislature, a scenario almost as unlikely.

So who can blame unhappy remnants of the once-mighty Tories for their wails of distress? The fund-raising rules have been tilted so heavily in their favour for so long in this province that the notion of a proverbially level playing field must make up seem like down to them!

That, presumably, explains PC Leader Ric McIver's anguished ejaculation to the media yesterday that the government's Bill 1, named An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta with spin worthy of the Harper Government in Ottawa, "is a naked attempt to tilt the political scale in the current government's balance!"

Not really, although the bill contains at least one provision that seems intended to drive a stake directly through the heart of the Tories -- to wit, a declaration that yesterday, June 15, will be the day the new rules take effect.

Demoralized, at least $1 million in debt and with no talent or mechanism for raising money from rank-and-file members, to stick with the metaphor of the deluge this leaves McIvor and his eight PC MLAs high and dry.

Indeed, since the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta hasn't been a legally incorporated society in Alberta since 1981, such circumstances would make me darned nervous if I were an officer of that heavily indebted group. This may explain the sudden departure of a PCAA director back in March complaining of decisions "exposing volunteers to personal liability." But, je digresse…

I am reliably informed Bill 1 also includes a provision that allows parties to take loans from corporations and unions during an election campaign, as long as they are repaid from properly raised funds within a statutory period.

Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley will hold a news conference this morning to explain the workings of the bill to the media. Perhaps she can also provide some insights into the flaws in McIver's theory that corporations and unions will somehow get their employees and members to legally pass on undocumented cash to political parties other than the foundering PCs.

Despite the sunshiny tone of yesterday's throne speech -- "we can work together, we can agree without being disagreeable" -- these provisions of Bill 1 suggest New Democrats might not be quite the Kumbaya Chorus their opponents often accuse them of being, indeed, that they know how to play politics with their elbows up almost as well as some other political teams.

They’ll need to be able to do that to survive, notwithstanding Wildrose Opposition Leader Brian Jean's pledge yesterday to be positive and work with the NDP government at least some of the time. Count on it, while the Wildrose is expected to back the ban on corporate and union donations, such occasions will be few enough, and will grow less frequent as the next election nears.

Bill 2, An Act to Restore Fairness to Public Revenue, will restore a degree of progressivity to Alberta's tax system, not dissimilar to the degree included by Jim Prentice, Alberta's last PC premier, in his last budget in March, which was never passed by the Legislature.

Thus endeth what Notley called "Alberta's brief and unfortunate experiment with what I've always said… was a regressive flat tax."

As the authors of the speech read by Lieutenant Governor Lois Mitchell were careful to note: "When these changes are implemented, each and every citizen of Alberta will still be contributing by far the lowest provincial taxes in Canada."

Other than Bill 3 -- an interim supply bill needed to keep the government's lights burning and possibly the only other legislation on the agenda for the NDP's two-week spring session -- the timing and details of other policies deemed worthy of mention in the speech were vague. These included more funding for health care, education and other public services, a review of resource royalties that will take place eventually, "real leadership" on the environment, a passing reference to fair pay for people on the minimum wage, and a Canadian Energy Strategy.

The latter is about as likely to be looked on with favour by the current federal government as it was when a suggestion on a similar theme was proposed by Alison Redford, who not so long ago was premier of Alberta too. But, who knows, perhaps political change can come to Ottawa in time for at least part of the next Alberta session in the fall. Stranger things have happened -- indeed, they just did!

Meanwhile, as the throne speech concluded, "it won't all happen at once."

The government shouldn't take too long implementing its program, though, because before you know it we'll be back in a pre-election hot zone.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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