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Albertans want election-spending-limit law but are unlikely to get one from Redford PCs

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Trevor Harrison

It's a conundrum!

What should Alberta's Tories do? A study by the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute released yesterday demonstrates something almost everyone already knew anyway -- that most Albertans strongly support limits on election spending.

So not setting limits on donations from corporations and unions, or enforcing the rules about how donations are made -- Hey, Daryl Katz, c'mon down! -- potentially spells big trouble for the Progressive Conservative Party of Premier Alison Redford.

At the same time, pretty much everybody in Alberta is starting to sense that Redford and the members of her government couldn't get elected dog catcher without loads o' dough from corporations with deep pockets and unending schemes for laundering cash through friends, spouses, relatives, employees, subsidiaries, pet border collies and a tank full of goldfish, plus numbered companies registered by any or all of the above.

Choices … choices … although it's not too hard to guess which choice the Redford government is going to make.

As Social Services Minister Dave Hancock put it recently about Katz's controversial seemingly-illegal-yet-not-illegal-for-Tories $430,000 donation to Redford's PC party -- which was later divided up among the drugstore and hockey billionaire's friends and relations for bookkeeping convenience and legal compliance -- "people should be able to organize their lives the way they want to, and if it's more convenient for them to contribute through their company than personally, I don't have a problem with that."

Hancock, by the way, was touted in yesterday's edition of the Edmonton Journal as "the government's moral compass on social issues," which actually sounds about right. He also appears to be a leading author of TripAdvisor reviews of coastal B.C. hotels, so one wonders if he too has almost had enough.

The Parkland report, authored by University of Lethbridge Sociology Professor Trevor Harrison and Harvey Krahn, chair of the University of Alberta's Sociology Department, was based on public opinion polling done by the U of A's well-regarded if pokey Population Research Lab, which is a smart-aleck blogger way of saying it's almost certainly right regardless of how Conservatives as a group feel about people who commit sociology.

Of special note, according to the Parkland Institute, especially given the current controversy about the Great Katzby's donations in the last exciting moments of the 2012 election campaign when everyone thought the Wildrose Party was about to win, "is the fact that fully 84 per cent of Albertans either agree or strongly agree that election spending limits should be introduced in the province."

Let's say the key part of that sentence again, just to make sure it registers: "84 per cent." That’s what you call an unambiguous majority.

Interestingly, this strong level of support spanned all political parties and was seen in all regions of the province.

The Parkland study also indicated that Albertans get it about democracy not being just about voting -- 62 per cent of the respondents said they believed that protest generally and protest groups in particular play an important role in the democratic process.

In addition, the survey showed significant levels of support for higher taxes and replacement of Alberta's unflat-flat tax, which tilts the field in favour of the wealthy, with a progressive tax system

Less surprisingly, the survey indicated deep mistrust and dissatisfaction with the way democracy operates in petro-state Alberta. Voters who identified themselves either as non-partisan or as supporters of political parties other than Redford's Progressive Conservatives agreed with her sentiment the government doesn't care what they think.

Roughly half of the NDP, Wildrose Party and non-partisan voters said they thought the government doesn't care about their views. Liberals were more trusting, at 33 per cent. Actual Tories who owned up to their political preference, as one might expect, were more trusting still -- with only about a quarter who reckoned they weren't being listened to. Still, that's a pretty high number for government supporters, it's said here.

Notwithstanding the intuitive sense Doctors Harrison and Krahn got it basically right, the results were getting a little stale by the time the Parkland Institute put out its news release -- the demon-dialler calls to the 1,207 respondents of the push-button survey were made almost a year ago, between June 5 and June 27, 2012.

In Parkland's defence, the researchers didn't get numbers to crunch from the PRL until the fall, and then, well, you know how busy the winters can be. Anyway, good research takes time to produce -- which may be why the Parkland Institute, unlike the Fraser Institute, doesn't put out a press release every week and a half.

Also unlike the Fraser Institute, no one in the media seems to have picked up the Parkland press release and reprinted it verbatim with no reaction. Whatever, the data remains informative.

The two sociologists estimated the margin of error for the survey at 2.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Indeed, if the poll had been conducted since the Katz Crowd's contributions were revealed and the Redford Government's 2013 "Screeching Smuggler's Turn" (SST) Budget was published, the levels of support for controls on election spending and distrust in the government both might have squirted considerably higher.

Professors Harrison and Krahn speculated that the voter cynicism they identified in this survey might contribute to the spectacularly low voter turnouts habitually recorded in Alberta. This is almost certainly true -- although you have to remember that's a normal part of any conservative government's reelection strategy in this part of Canada.

The feeling your vote doesn't mean anything, after all, tends to induce feelings that favour the ruling party -- like there's really no point bothering to vote for whatever flavour of opposition you prefer.

Moreover, since dogcatchers aren't elected in Canada there’s no way to test the PC Party's fund-free electability in that regard.

Still, don't expect any changes to Alberta election laws any time soon. Just sayin'.

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

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