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Required Changes to Local Authorities Election Act and Timing of Campaign Financing Changes Coming into Force

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Resolution Category: 
Extraordinary Resolution 4
Subject: 
Year: 
2016
Status: 
Adopted - Active
Sponsor(s): 
AUMA Board of Directors
Active Clauses: 

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association urge the Government of Alberta to make the recommended changes to the Local Authorities Election Act as listed in the attachment;

AND FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association urge the government to ensure the changes to the Local Authorities Election Act are in place for the 2017 municipal election, except for the changes relating to campaign financing and reporting rules, where the coming into force should be delayed until January 1, 2018.

Whereas Clauses: 

WHEREAS the Local Authorities Election Act (LAEA) is an important piece of legislation that is critical to ensuring that the municipal election process is conducted in a secure, fair and impartial manner;

WHEREAS municipalities are pleased that government has indicated that they will be making much-needed changes to revise the LAEA to ensure greater integrity, transparency and consistency in local elections;

WHEREAS it is expected that the revised LAEA will be introduced in the fall 2016 sitting of the legislature and will include changes relating to campaign finances and reporting in particular as part of the province’s desire to end contributions from business and unions;

WHEREAS AUMA submitted resolutions in 2011 (from Board of Directors) and 2014 (from a member) outlining several required changes and supplemented these changes through a subsequent response in summer 2016 to the province’s questionnaire on potential policy shifts, and desires to consolidate all our requests into one submission; and

WHEREAS many municipal candidates have already begun fundraising activities for the 2017 municipal election and the changes relating to campaign financing and reporting may be challenging for candidates and administration to implement before the upcoming election;

Resolution Background: 

AUMA has been providing input to the province on the LAEA for the past several years. This resolution is considered extraordinary as the timing of the questions posed by Municipal Affairs was after the May 31 resolution deadline and introduction of the legislation and any changes to the LAEA will need to be made in fall 2016. 

This resolution differs from the 2014 active resolution that was brought forward by member municipality St. Albert, as this resolution consolidates all of the proposed changes on LAEA and is specific to the timing of the changes for campaign financing reporting.

 

Attachment

AUMA’s Recommendations for Changes to the Local Authorities Election Act

TIMING OF CHANGES TO CAMPAIGN FINANCING

AUMA requests the following changes:

  • Getting the timing right for the enactment of LAEA changes is essential.
  • As such, AUMA strongly recommends that the changes relating to campaign financing and reporting should not be enforced until January 1, 2018 after the completion of the 2017 municipal elections.
  • Many candidates have already begun fundraising activities for the next election and as such these new rules could lead to inequities among candidates, create public confusion as to which candidates are following the new legislation versus the old, potentially lead to abuse by candidates, as well as prove difficult to enforce equally.
  • Given these reasons we feel it would be advisable to pass these changes but to delay their enactment. However, the remainder of the changes to the LAEA (those not related to campaign financing and reporting) are critical, as well as implementable, and as such should be in place prior to the 2017 election

Corporate, Trade Union and Employee Organization Contributions

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force January 1, 2018):

  • Prohibit contributions from corporations, trade unions and employee organizations to candidates in local elections only if a provincial tax credit will be provided when individuals donate to a local election campaign. 
  • Donations from individuals living outside of Alberta should be allowed. It is unfair to restrict a candidate’s friends and family from supporting a candidate as this is allowed for federal and provincial candidates. Without a provincial tax credit to encourage donations from individuals, prospective candidates for local election may not be able to afford to run for office.   

Fundraising Contributions

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force January 1, 2018):

  • Align treatment of fundraising activities with the rules used for provincial elections by deeming the donation portion of fundraising proceeds to be a campaign contribution, providing that anonymous contributions of less than $100 are allowed. This would recognize that a portion of the proceeds for fundraising goes towards covering the cost of the event and the remainder is the true campaign contribution.  For example, a $100 dinner ticket could be allocated as $60 for the cost of the dinner, with $40 allocated as a campaign contribution with an allowable tax credit.
  • A $100 threshold recognizes that it is very difficult and time consuming to keep detailed records of small fundraising items in silent auctions, pass the hat, and other events. These contributions do not represent material amounts and therefore do not need the same level of scrutiny and record keeping. 

Contribution Limits

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force January 1, 2018):

  • The province should not legislate a maximum limit for what individuals can contribute collectively to all candidates.
  • Given that municipal candidates do not operate under a party system as is the case federally and provincially, it will be administratively challenging to implement the contribution limit provisions. Under the provincial system, each party is able to monitor contributions from an individual; however, without a central coordinating body, enforcing this will be challenging. If this was to become a requirement, the province would need to clarify responsibility for enforcing reporting requirements. Given these challenges it may be beneficial to track contributions annually so as to report via annual tax returns.
  • Given the cumulative impact of the proposed restrictions to donations and self-funding, many candidates will have to reduce their campaign activities, making it much more difficult for new candidates to have an impact and compete against incumbents.
  • The definition of campaign period should be explicitly defined so it can be consistently applied.
  • In-kind donations are not currently explicitly defined in the Act. There should be a section that requires in-kind donations to be fully cost attributed and be included in the contribution limits for individuals, corporations, trade unions, and employee organizations.

Campaign Contributions Made By Candidates

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force January 1, 2018):

  • The cap on self-funded contributions and campaign expenditures should be removed, unless the LAEA is amended to give municipalities the option to pass additional bylaws to set standards appropriate for their communities. Failing this, the LAEA should be amended to require municipalities with populations greater than 25,000 to pass bylaws outlining financial contribution and disclosure requirements.

Candidate Registration

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force January 1, 2018):

  • Require all prospective candidates to register with the municipality before or at the time of filing nomination papers, regardless of whether they are self-funding or receiving contributions from others. This will ensure full and consistent disclosure of all sources of funding.
  • As well, it will enable any campaign finance caps to be calculated consistently in terms of the time periods as the start date will be the date of the registration.

Campaign Finance Disclosure

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force January 1, 2018):

  • Require campaign expenses to be reported by category. Having well-defined categories will improve transparency and consistency of reporting.
  • Provide clear and comprehensive definitions and timeframes for campaign contributions, allowable campaign expenditures, campaign period, and campaign surplus and campaign deficit.
  • Specify that financial contributions must be deposited into a separate account at a financial institution in candidate’s name.
  • Word the legislation to make it clear that surplus and deficit amounts must be reported regardless of whether candidate is running in the next election.

Tax Incentives

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force January 1, 2018):

  • The LAEA should include a provincially funded income tax credit for Albertans who financially support municipal candidates using rates equivalent to the existing provincial tax credit for contributions to provincial election campaigns. Tax credits are critical if the province is restricting donations from unions and corporations.
  • If the province is looking at thresholds and maximum annual credit amount at one half of the provincial credit, then the province should rationalize why it is setting the thresholds and maximum amount at half of the provincial credit.
  • The financial cost should not be shifted to municipalities as it will create inequities between the few municipalities who have the financial flexibility to provide and those that do not.

Campaign Spending Limits

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force January 1, 2018):

  • Campaign spending limits should not be legislated.
  • It is not appropriate to set a campaign spending limit when the scope and activities vary according to the size of the constituency that a candidate is representing.  For example, the activities of a candidate in a city ward with tens of thousands of residents will be very different from a candidate who is running in a village election. 
  • Consideration could be given to enabling municipalities to set limits where they choose to do so through municipal bylaws.   

Campaign Finance Provisions for School Boards

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force January 1, 2018):

  • Prospective school board trustee candidates should be subject to the same campaign finance and contribution disclosure requirements as municipal candidates. This will promote consistency for local elections and better understanding for the public.

Third Party Advertising

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force before the 2017 municipal elections):

  • AUMA supports the establishment of disclosure provisions for third party lobby groups through the LAEA and/or through other legislation consistent with the requirements of the Election Finances and Contributions Act.
    • In instances where a third party advertises for or against a specific candidate, provisions could be set out for contribution limits and disclosure. 
    • However, given that municipalities do not follow a political party platform, much of the campaigning may not be able to be linked to a particular candidate. 

Advance Vote

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force before the 2017 municipal elections):

  • Require all municipalities with a recorded population of over 1,000 to conduct an advance vote for any election, by-election, or vote on a question occurring within their jurisdiction.
  • Allow the municipality to apply to the Minister for an exemption if the municipality believes that the conduct of an advance vote is not warranted in their election, by-election, or vote on a question.

Institutional Voting

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force before the 2017 municipal elections):

  • Broaden the criteria for an institutional voting station to include other supportive living facilities based on the level of care rather than age. This recognizes that mobility and access issues are not limited to seniors or hospital patients.   

Voter Identification Requirements

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force before the 2017 municipal elections):

  • Allow for additional flexibility in meeting the voter identification requirements by expanding the use of attestations (vouching) to include attestations by a voter who has provided proof of their own identity and residence in the jurisdiction, regardless of whether a voters list has been prepared, providing the municipality has the option to address issues through setting out requirements in their local bylaws.
  • Additional flexibility could be enabled by bylaw for municipalities that believe that they require additional flexibility or controls, whether or not they have a list of voters.
  • There is a need to improve education and processes around voter identification, including how to address situations of recent relocation so that there is consistency within a municipality.  

Campaign Activities at Voting Stations

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force before the 2017 municipal elections):

  • Restrict campaign activities on public land within a 100 metre radius of the entrance or access to a voting station, and expand the list of prohibited campaign activities in this area. Allowable and restricted campaign activities should be clearly articulated (e.g. relating to signage)

Substitute Returning Officer

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force before the 2017 municipal elections):

  • Allow the Elected authorities, and not the chief elected official, to have the authority to appoint a substitute returning officer. Elected authorities should have the option to appoint a substitute returning officer at the same time the returning officer is appointed.
  • The appointment of the substitute returning officer at the same time as the returning officer ensures that a replacement is immediately available in the event that a returning officer becomes incapable.
  • In addition, section 17 should include the following:
    • “If the secretary is the returning officer and becomes incapable of performing the duties of that office, the person who replaces the secretary will be the substitute returning officer."

Prosecution of Offences

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force before the 2017 municipal elections):

  • Extend the time to prosecute an offence of contribution rules to five years after the alleged offence occurred. This accommodates the four year election cycle while providing time for complaint investigation. 

Deadline For Reporting Requirements

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force before the 2017 municipal elections):

  • Remove the 30 day period and associated late filing fee provisions, and thereby allow the general offence provisions to apply where a candidate has not complied with the requirements. A late payment fee should not excuse a candidate from having to meet a deadline that is based on a reasonable time period and is able to be clearly communicated in advance (i.e., candidate has ample time to prepare and is well aware).

Consistency and Readability of Legislation

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force before the 2017 municipal elections):

  • Delete all references in the Act to the appointment of an “official agent” since there is no current role and no future new role for such an agent.
  • Section 48(1) (Rule of Residence) should be clarified to ensure that a voter only votes once, regardless of the voter's location.
    • Specifically, 48(1)(a.1) should strike "in accordance with subsection (1.1), designate" and replace it with "declare", 48(1)(b) should strike "works, lives, and sleeps and to which" and replace it with "ordinarily lives and sleeps and the residence to which", and 48(1)(e) should strike "if a person leaves the area with" and replace it with "if a person leaves his or her residence" and strike "residence within the area" and replace it "residence is at the new location".
  • Section 98 (Recount) should be changed to clarify that a recount only needs to be done at the actual voting station that had a problem, and that a complete vote recount is not required.
    • Specifically, the following should be added: "98(1.1) If the returning officer makes a recount pursuant to subsection (1), the returning officer may count the ballots cast at one or more voting stations as the returning officer considers necessary."

General Suggestions

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force before the 2017 municipal elections):

  • Provide the same time between the nomination date and election date as the timeframe for federal and provincial elections (i.e., at least five weeks).
  • Allow municipalities to adopt a bylaw to create a nomination period with a set deadline rather than a nomination day.
  • Require candidates to complete an orientation on council responsibilities and read and agree to comply with the council’s code of conduct as part of filing nomination papers.
  • Allow municipalities the option of using electronic voting.
  • Enable municipalities to adopt a bylaw setting out how they will address a tie vote (e.g., draw name, conduct a by‐election or establish another action).
  • Consolidate penalty provisions in Part 6 Offenses section of the Act.
  • Clarify responsibility for enforcing reporting requirements.
  • Ensure that the application and enforcement of penalties applies equally to candidates, regardless of whether they won the election or not.
  • Provide the returning officer with the authority to enforce those areas within their responsibility (e.g. ability to remove people with electronic devices from voting locations, power to scrutinize and reject nomination forms, etc.)

ADMINSTRATION OF ELECTIONS

AUMA requests the following changes (to come into force before the 2017 municipal elections):

  • Forms:
    • Ensure all forms and materials are updated to align with legislation in its entirety.
    • Provide more space on nomination forms for candidates to fill in required information. 
    • Create a form for self-funded candidates to disclose.
  • Process:
    • Educate and clarify the enforcement of section 152, Advertisement distribution, on voting day.
    • Educate Returning Officers on how to scrutinize nomination forms and the appropriate degree to which they are responsible for examining or rejecting improper nomination papers and processes by which they should scrutinize nomination forms.
    • Clarify if and when nicknames are acceptable in the nomination process.
    • Improve education and processes around voter identification, including how to address situations of recent relocation so that there is consistency within a municipality.  
    • Additional education and partnerships are required between municipalities, Municipal Affairs, and Justice and Solicitor General on the enforcement of LAEA provisions.
Government Response: 

Municipal Affairs has indicated that no changes to the LAEA will be made before the 2017 municipal election. 

AUMA Notes: 

As the ministry has not provided information on the results of the public consultation on the LAEA changes, we do not know which policy changes they plan to make following the election. In particular, the ministry has not acknowledged the outstanding issues that AUMA raised in our resolution that were not referenced in their consultation guide. While AUMA had agreed that all campaign financing provisions should be deferred so that candidates all have the same rules in place, we had hoped that some changes could be made prior to the election.

AUMA Comments: 
Considers government response