Kenney defends referendum bill, accuses NDP of hypocrisy on campaign spending

Kenney defends referendum bill, accuses NDP of hypocrisy on campaign spending

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is pushing back on Opposition NDP claims that his new referendum bill is a backdoor attempt to unfairly influence debate during elections and bring big money back into politics.

“I just find it completely bizarre that anyone would characterize this (bill) as being undemocratic or, as the Opposition has said, a power grab, when in fact this is the exact opposite,” Kenney said Wednesday.

“This is not aggregating power to the government, but giving power to the people. There is nothing more democratic than this.”

Kenney made the comments a day after his government introduced the referendum bill along with legislation to amend Senator-in-waiting elections.

He has already promised referendums to get a mandate to fight with Ottawa over changes to equalization payments and potentially one if his government decides it makes financial sense to abandon the Canada Pension Plan.

The bill would give cabinet the power to determine which issues could go to vote, how the question would be worded, when the votes would be held and whether the results would be binding.

The bill also proposes to allow third-party advertisers to spend up to $500,000 to influence public opinion on the issue at hand. Those advertisers would only have to file audited financial statements if they spend over $350,000.

Currently, third-party advertisers can spend only $150,000 during a provincial election campaign.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the $500,000 ceiling along with reporting exemptions below $350,000 means deep pockets can be used to sway voter opinion, something her government took out while it was in power by lowering contribution limits.

Notley said the bill clears the way for Kenney to abuse it.

“He will be able to take an issue right out of the UCP campaign strategy book and invite literally hundreds of third-party organizations to spend half-a-million dollars each on those issues, potentially during the (provincial) election campaign,” she said.

“If they’re super-sneaky, they can get away without filing auditable (financial) reports if they only spend $349,000 each.

“This is classic American-style campaigning, corrupting our system.”

Kenney disagreed, saying Alberta’s referendum bill is similar to rules in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and other jurisdictions.

He challenged Notley’s assertion that $500,000 is excessive, noting that modern campaigns are expensive.

“While it is legitimate to have a spending limit, it has to be a reasonable limit,” he said.

“You could not have a real democratic debate on an important issue through a referendum campaign if the limit were five, 10, 50 thousand dollars. Groups could not effectively communicate with millions of Albertans.”

He said the bill is part of broader democratic reform agenda, which will include upcoming citizen-initiated referendums and recall legislation later this year.

Kenney also accused the NDP of hypocrisy, wanting big money out of politics but being OK with millions of dollars being spent on third party-advertising by its union supporters.

“That’s just a loophole, where in this case one party is using an affiliate to do its advertising for them,” said Kenney.

Kenney said his government will introduce legislation this fall banning formal affiliates of registered political parties from operating as third-party advertisers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2020.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Alberta Politics

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Quebec police continue search for father, one day after missing girls found dead

Bodies were found in a wooded area of Quebec City suburb

Lacombe’s Cilantro and Chive informs community of possible COVID-19 case through it’s doors

Individual tests positive after being in restaurant July 4 or July 5

Red Deer up to 4 active COVID-19 cases

Province announced 77 new confirmed cases across Alberta Friday

Cilantro and Chive ‘Dad Bod’ Burger supports childrens mental health in Lacombe

$3,068 was donated to Lacombe Community Addiction and Mental Health Office– Children’s Services

QUIZ: Are you ready for a summer road trip?

How much do you really know about roads, motor vehicles and car culture? Take this quiz to find out.

PODCAST: The Expert tackles the return of sports

Cam Moon, Joe Whitbread, Byron Hackett and Todd Vaughan discuss how sports can come back

How Conservative leadership hopefuls would address the WE scandal if they win

The ethics commissioner has been called in to see if Trudeau broke conflict-of-interest law

With debt, deficit numbers out, experts say Liberals need plan for growth

Borrowing will push the federal debt past $1 trillion by the end of the fiscal year

Pedestrian-only downtown a hit with residents as St. John’s adapts to pandemic

‘The city really got this right this time. We’re very happy’

Bosnian-Canadians mark 25th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre

‘It’s sad for a child to think that it’s normal, actually, to … have family members killed’

PODCAST: COVID-19 and the US Election

The Expert welcomes Burman University Political Scientist Marc Froese

Sylvan Lake RCMP continue search for missing man

43-year-old Steven Hull’s last known whereabouts were in the Sylvan Lake area on May 28

Most Read