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Stephen Mandel pleads for public subsidy for his Alberta Party

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Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel. Photo: David J. Climenhaga

Hello, Alberta! Stephen Mandel here! My Alberta Party didn't manage to elect a single MLA last month, but we're good guys and we got 9.1 per cent of the vote. How about you give us some money?

That wasn't really Stephen Mandel saying that, of course. It was me, your blogger, David Climenhaga. Writing stuff like that is one of the things you can get away with if you're a blogger and not, say, a member of that endangered species, the newspaper reporter.

But, seriously, that was basically what Mandel was saying at the end of last week. I'm not making this up, either. I read it in the Edmonton Journal.

"We deserve to have some form of government funding," he told the Journal's reporter, seeing as about 170,000 Albertans cast their ballots for the Alberta Party on April 16 but didn't manage to elect any MLAs, "in order to allow us to represent those people."

Well, you've got to give the old guy points for sheer brass. He says he's going to write a letter to Premier Jason Kenney, whose United Conservative Party just won the provincial election pretty darned convincingly, making the case for the dough.

As Mandel well knows -- having had a successful career in municipal and provincial politics, serving as mayor of Edmonton and a Conservative cabinet minister -- that's not how our "single member plurality" electoral system works or, more importantly from the perspective of the people who advocate forcefully for never changing it, how it's supposed to work.

It's commonly called first past the post because, you know, the winner in a given riding is only the one that gets past the post first. (It's a horse race metaphor, people. Don't worry about the fact there's no literal post.)

Mandel would have had a better case if he had argued for a system of proportional representation, in which every party with a vote over a certain threshold -- say, 10 per cent -- gets to send a proportionate number of MLAs to the legislature. (Wait! Better make that 9 per cent. -- Ed.)

Canada needs proportional representation, but large parties like the UCP and for that matter the NDP nowadays, although they ought to know better, don't like it because it prevents the creation of massive majorities on less-than-majority votes. That said, let the record show your blogger understands the UCP would have won a majority even with PR based on the vote it received on April 19.

Mandel would also have a better case if he were calling for tight election financing rules plus per-vote subsidies to all parties that contested elections, even tiny ones with little chance of electing anyone, based on the number of ballots they received. We used to have this in Canada and it worked well.

As I am sure Mandel knows, the Conservative Party of Canada led by Stephen Harper, whose government included Kenney as a senior cabinet minister, campaigned hard against that idea as a gross misuse of Canadian taxpayers' money and had eliminated it completely by 2015.

Harper complained the subsidy amounted to an "enormous cheque that just keeps piling into political parties every month whether they raise any money or not."

In reality, such subsidies were anathema to Conservatives because they helped their enemies.

Canadian Conservatives, as in the United States, favour a system of wide-open funding in which the richest can influence voter behaviour most effectively. But even without some limits on fund-raising, Canadian Conservatives are frankly good at raising money and you can hardly blame them for wanting to preserve that advantage.

But don't assume just because of that Kenney and the UCP won't reverse course completely on the idea of a subsidy for the Alberta Party -- if not for the Alberta Liberals (1 per cent) or the Alberta Greens (0.4 per cent).

After all, there's a pretty good case to be made that the Alberta Party is better at stealing votes from the NDP than from the UCP, so why not scoot a little public cash their way?

Since when did politics have anything to do with principles?

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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