This past weekend, the Alberta Party held their AGM in Red Deer. There had been rumors for awhile about members of other provincial political parties planning to join their ranks but this was the first time they officially came out of the woodwork. This included some former Alberta Liberal party members, most notably former leadership hopeful Kerry Cundal who was elected to the Alberta Party board of directors. But of course the real story is the influx of former ‘progressive’ Conservatives showing up.
I had heard whisperings since the summer time of the ‘benevolent takeover’ of the Alberta Party by former members of the PC Party who didn’t want to stay under the leadership of Jason Kenney. Congregating under the Alberta Together banner, it’s a culmination of a ton of PC money that will undoubtedly bring clout and power to the conversation. The money and influence began to show its strength in the recent municipal election with, for the first noticeable time, political action committee backing of candidates in Edmonton and dictating the tone of civil discourse.
Historically, municipal elections have been ward based, with supporters rallying around a single candidate. In this election, Alberta Together, the former PC member-funded political action committee or PAC, is directly linked to at least 10 campaigns in Edmonton alone. They provided quiet public endorsements, volunteers, and, likely donors. I have heard rumors of promises of donations of at least $50,000 for the ‘chosen’ City Council candidates. We won’t know the true impact of this funding influence until all of the financial disclosures are made public in March 2018 but for now, let’s start drawing the connections….
The easiest way to show the connections is to track a few individuals. Ward 1 is where Katherine O’Neill, Alberta Together’s Executive Director and former PC President, resides. She was a strong advocate for Andrew Knack on social media. In Ward 3, Dave Loken was the choice with support from Katherine and Stephen Mandel, former mayor and known instigator of Alberta Together. In Ward 4, support was thrown behind Justin Draper, with Katherine volunteering on his campaign. In Ward 7 and 9, along with the Mayoral race, there was less open support however at least two gatherings took place that included choice Alberta Together candidates, as shown here, including Kris Andreychuk, Tim Cartmell, and Don Iveson. For Ward 10, it should come as no surprise that their choice was Michael Walters, former candidate for the Alberta Party and PC supporter.
The support in the recent election did not end with candidates for City Council either. There were public endorsements, volunteer hours, and donations for Edmonton Public School Board candidates in at least three Wards: A, D, and H.
What we might be witnessing is simply a number of super engaged citizens who had the personal time and resources to dedicate to multiple races. But when these individuals are so closely tied to a former and emerging political party, the involvement starts to look less like motivated individuals and more like an organized partisan movement.
It was in Ward 5 where most of the Alberta Together support was given to candidate Sarah Hamilton. The ‘progressive’ PC machine was behind her in full force, utilizing endorsements from Stephen Mandel and Michael Oshry, known supporters of Alberta Together. Once her financial disclosures are released, I’m sure this backing will become even more evident. For now, it proves that there is at least toxic crossover and interference in municipal campaigns.
I was shocked at how influential this was in Edmonton’s municipal election. I had naively always thought that hard work and strong policies would warrant positive results. As I mentioned in my first blog post-election, this is not the case. I now believe that you must have at least two-out-of-three key attributes to have a good shot at winning – political party backing being one of those.
The question voters need to consider is:
Do you think it is fair that political parties or party-funded PACs fundraise to support municipal candidates?
Recently, there was a late night discussion about the role of PACs in the recent municipal election. The Legislative Committee talked about pulling ‘dark money’ out of Alberta politics after seeing its impact on October’s results and thinking forward to the 2019 Provincial Election. Reports say that a bill will be introduced soon to address this in Alberta.
Whatever the future holds for election funding, I know that this loophole in the legislation is taking democratic power away from voters in our city and province. Until the hole can be fixed, the electorate should at least be aware that partisan money has more of an impact on election results than their ballot does.
Finally, if I could speak for a moment directly to Alberta Party members, you might want to consider where your new influx of cash and people are coming from. This money and membership comes with very tightly controlled strings. PACs and the funds from Alberta Together go against many of your own principles of transparency, social responsibility, and democracy. It’s not the average centrist Albertan supporter but rather the generation of tax breaks for the wealthy and public service cuts with no balanced approach in sight that is paving the road to your party’s future. But as we know, money talks.
(A.Young / B.Johnson / M.Young)