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Welcome to Alberta's Wild West, where the market sets the value of your vote

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Look, people, this here is the Wild West. If a billionaire wants to buy an election, why the heck shouldn't he? Isn't that what the Alberta Advantage is supposed to be all about?

Seriously, folks, that's just the way we do things out here in Wild Rose Country, and if you don't like it you should just go back to Ontario and freeze in the dark in your nuclear-powered basement!

If you're one of those naïve ninnies who thinks your input ought to be considered come election time, well, fuggedaboudit! This is Alberta! You should have been a billionaire too, and it's nobody’s fault but your own if you're not.

Now, mind you, there is such a thing as too much democracy, even here in Alberta, and from time to time things do go wrong with our election financing rules. For example, what happens when even our billionaires can't agree on which right-wing horse to back?

That seems to be exactly what happened in the April 2012 provincial election, the financing of which now has the entire province, not to mention the rest of the country, in a swivet in the wake of the release of our political parties' fund-raising totals by Elections Alberta earlier this week.

The facts of the case are pretty simple, by the sound of it. In the last days of the 2012 election campaign, Edmonton drug store billionaire Daryl Katz somehow got all of his friends and relations to each agree to donate up to the maximum allowable $30,000 to Premier Alison Redford's Progressive Conservative party, which at that point looked like it was about to lose the vote to the far-right Wildrose Party led by former Fraser Institute apparatchik Danielle Smith.

This all added up to $430,000. Strictly for convenience sake, I am sure, plus of course to save on bank charges for separate cheques, the dough was shipped over to PC HQ on a single cheque and later divided up for record-keeping purposes among the actual donors. Really.

By mere coincidence, Katz was hoping at about the same time to have Alberta taxpayers build him a swoopy new half-a-billion-dollar hockey arena in a nice part of Edmonton for his currently locked-out unionized professional hockey club, the Edmonton Oilers. Those negotiations with the City of Edmonton have hit a momentary roadblock, but will doubtless resume soon.

Anyway, if this sounds to you a lot like the political donations now being investigated so vigorously by the authorities in Montreal, you must be the kind of miserable crybaby who goes to protest marches, wears an orange hat, has a lifetime membership in the Friends of Medicare and uses a picture of Jack Layton for a screensaver on your computer.

Naturally, this being Alberta, things are completely different here -- and not just because we don’t speak French. The biggest difference, of course, is that huge political donations are completely legal and standard operating procedure here in Alberta, so there’s absolutely no point having an inquiry like the one in Quebec.

Instead, Elections Alberta will quietly investigate the donation by Katz and all of his friends and relations. Since the donations are entirely legal except for some incorrect paperwork, the probe will find that absolutely nothing has been done wrong. The results of the investigation, unfortunately, will have to remain a secret, because that’s the way we do things here in Alberta and the law says we can.

Remember, there's only one kind of election spending that we tightly control in this province and that's third-party advertising, even if all it does is criticize a government policy during an election campaign without actually suggesting you vote for anyone else in particular.

The reason? Well, advertising like that might be purchased by people like the coalition of unions that paid for those notorious "No Plan" advertisements back in 2007 that got Ed Stelmach off to such a shaky start as premier the next year. Who knows, without a law like this, environmentalists, pipeline haters, world peace advocates and Esperanto speakers might do the same thing? None of them are the kind of people who are likely to urge you to support the kind of right-wing parties we like here in Alberta and therefore none of them are the kinds of people who ought to be able to speak their minds here in the New West.

Now, it is interesting and slightly ironic that the people screaming the loudest about the donation by Katz and all his friends and relations are in the Wildrose Party, which itself has not exactly suffered because of Alberta's current election financing rules, loosy-goosey though they may be.

Indeed, Smith's Wildrosers raised considerably more from their billionaires (as well as quite a few non-billionaires, of course) than did Redford's Tories from theirs -- a total of $3.1 million during the campaign period, compared with the PCs' $1.6 million, according to Elections Alberta.

Now, one can feel a certain sympathy with the Wildrose Party, which the polls said was leading strongly until the final 72 hours or so of the campaign, a fact that must leave them feeling "we was robbed," even if their own erupting bozos contributed significantly to their loss in the polling booths.

But their leader's protests are pretty rich, as it were, given whom they represent, and who pays their freight. It seems pretty likely that they're no more inclined to legislate the kind of election financing controls that Alberta really needs than are Redford's PCs.

If they say they are, and even if they sincerely mean it just now, readers should remember that opposition parties don’t always deliver on such pledges once they observe the advantages of the status quo from the vantage of power. Example: the independent Parliamentary budget officer promised in 2006 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Neo-Liberal Party of Canada, then still in opposition.

It is said here that if all the billionaires' donations in Alberta had gone to one right-wing party or the other (either Redford's Tories or Smith's Wildrose) and if the NDP were the only party protesting, this story wouldn't even rate five column inches of news coverage in this province.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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