Maybe Brad Wall really is Alberta's favourite politician...corporate Alberta’s, anyway.
Leastways, according to an important news story broken by Progress Alberta this morning, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall's political party received 657 donations large and small from Alberta companies between 2006 and last year.
The story is based on a public document made accessible and searchable through a database developed by the Edmonton-based progressive advocacy organization. The Alberta section of the database posted this morning on a microsite called BradWallTookMoneyFromWho.ca reads like a Calgary oil patch directory. Alberta's Servus Credit union, the bank for many unions and progressive groups, is also on the list of donors to Wall's anti-union government.
The numbers crunched by Progress Alberta show out-of-province corporate donations make up roughly a quarter of the corporate donations received by Wall's misnamed Saskatchewan Party, a coalition of conservatives formed in 1997 after a corruption scandal had ruined the reputation of the province's Progressive Conservative Party in the late 1980s and was followed by a period of NDP rule.
Now, this may not seem to you like an outrageous number of donations to the Saskatchewan Party over the time span in question, and the $3.1 million raised from out-of-province sources may not seem like all that huge a sum.
But don't forget, the totals don't include money raised for the 2016 Saskatchewan provincial election, which Wall's party won handily, or that the population of Saskatchewan, barely a million, is roughly the same as that of the city of Calgary. This should put the size and scope of these donations in a proper context.
Donations from corporate Alberta were not the biggest revelation contained in the research done by Progress Alberta -- a group that has become such a thorn in the side of the Opposition Wildrose Party here in Alberta they've taken to using it as a bête noir to highlight in fundraising emails to party members.
The data put together by Progress Alberta Executive Director Duncan Kinney shows that -- just like the old Progressive Conservative Government used to do during its final years as Alberta's government -- the Saskatchewan Party has been taking donations from taxpayer-supported institutions including municipalities, a health region, public libraries, school boards, universities, colleges, a Crown corporation and registered charities.
That ought to be illegal anywhere in Canada. It was in Alberta when the Tories were doing it, and our election finance laws have been strengthened by the NDP government elected in 2015 to include a ban on all corporate and union donations. But it's all A-OK in Saskatchewan, which is run the perfect way according to Alberta's most aggrieved conservatives.
When it comes to election financing, though, apparently pretty well anything goes in the Saskatchewan of Premier Wall, who, according to Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney is "the real leader of Western Canada right now."
In addition to donations from a long list of taxpayer-supported institutions, the indexed list published by Progress Alberta also includes foreign and out-of-province companies and even a smattering of media companies who do business here in Alberta -- you know, some of the folks who provide the news we read and hear about what a wonderful job Wall is doing. Media donors included Western Producer Publications, Shaw Communications, Harvard Broadcasting, the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspaper Association, CTV, and especially Rawlco Radio, which accounted for by far the largest part of the media donations.
The Saskatchewan Party even took a $300 donation back in 2007 from Alberta's Wildrose Alliance Party -- the very same Wildrose Party Opposition, slightly renamed, that just yesterday called Progress Alberta’s advisory board "a who's who of NDP stalwarts." You know, like blogger Dave Cournoyer, who's never been a member of the NDP and seems quite proud of it, and former Alberta Liberal Party executive director Kieran Leblanc.
Progress Alberta also argues that Saskatchewan has the worst election financing laws in Canada -- in the sense that they are by and large the most permissive.
What should be obvious from this -- which, if it isn’t a scandal, certainly ought to be -- is that the place to start fixing these bad Saskatchewan laws is by putting some controls on donations by public agencies, municipalities, and health-care and educational institutions. Don't look for Wall's party to deliver that change, though.
It's a measure of the kind of place Saskatchewan has become under Wall that the administrators of public institutions and elected officials have apparently concluded they need to donate taxpayers' money to the Saskatchewan Party to keep the government sweet.
The same kind of thing was said privately by officers of Alberta institutions when our Tories engaged in the same kind of behaviour. They certainly weren’t all PC supporters.
That said, it's important to remember the activity exposed by the CBC in Alberta in 2012 was not permitted under Alberta election financing laws even then, while the legal situation is pretty much the Wild West in Saskatchewan. But just because donations from public institutions in Saskatchewan are not illegal doesn't mean they are not in a fundamental way improper.
Back in 2014, then-Wildrose leader Danielle Smith argued such donations "should have gone to roads or classrooms or research" but "instead ended up in the PC party election war chest."
That is no less true in Saskatchewan now than it was in Alberta in 2014, notwithstanding the obvious -- and obviously intentional -- inadequacies of Saskatchewan's election finance laws.
Because Progress Alberta is an advocacy organization that is certainly sympathetic to the NDP's point of view, its findings will be easy for some to dismiss. It will be interesting to see how mainstream media in Saskatchewan and Alberta cover the organization's revelations -- if they cover them at all.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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