The Alberta NDP has filed a complaint with the province’s Office of the Election Commissioner over a new political action committee (PAC), “Shaping Alberta’s Future,” its connections to the United Conservative Party, and its solicitations of donations from the Motor Dealers Association of Alberta.
In a letter to the Commissioner, the NDP pointed to items from the PAC’s website soliciting donations and the plans for that donated money as “a clear violation of the law” and an effort to “circumvent party expense and contribution rules,” running afoul of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act. The NDP also claim that Shaping Alberta’s Future is “acting as a fundraising apparatus for the UCP.”
All of these allegations begin with a meeting with the province’s auto dealers.
According to a letter to dealers published on the Motor Dealers’ Association of Alberta (MDA) website, UCP leader Jason Kenney met with the MDA board on Sept. 6 to address concerns the association had with the current NDP government.
Kenney is said to have promised to address items like:
- Eliminating the provincial carbon tax;
- Rolling back provincial corporate and personal income tax increases;
- Freezing the minimum wage;
- Cancelling changes to the Employment Standards Code, occupational health and safety and WCB;
- “[Rebalancing] the playing field between consumers and industry” through changes to the Consumer Protection Act” and “[r]eturning AMVIC to a delegated authority from a government agency,” and
- Banning importing right-hand drive vehicles from Asian countries.
The letter, signed by MDA chair Andrew Robinson, went on to argue that due to previous fundraising and changes to election spending legislation, the UCP were at a disadvantage in “countering the negative ads against the UCP,” allegedly funded by unions, “left leaning socialist agencies” and the NDP.
According to the MDA website, the association includes “over 90% of Alberta’s franchised new vehicle and heavy truck dealerships.”
“We’re getting blamed for having made a contribution,” MDA president and former PC MLA Denis Ducharme told Global News, “yet all the various unions make contributions to third-party advertising. But when industry decides to do it, it seems as though we’re being condemned and that we’re in bed with Mr. Kenney, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth.”
Ducharme points out this is the first time the Motor Dealers Association has ever committed itself politically in its 67-year history, but the carbon tax, minimum wage hikes and other factors pushed the group to take action.
“We felt with the carbon tax increases, everything else, it’s just adding up so much to the bottom line,” Ducharme said. “We felt that things had to be done.”
In an emailed statement to Global News, a UCP spokesperson said the meeting described in the MDA letter was part of the “significant amount of public and stakeholder consultation done prior to the next election.”
But the UCP deny Kenney made any guarantees to the MDA, noting the party continues to develop its platform.
“Soliciting policy proposals from stakeholders does not equal a promise to act and Mr. Kenney has made no such promises to the MDA,” the statement reads.
“In addition, we reject a number of characterizations made in the MDA’s letter (e.g. that Mr. Kenney made a promise to repeal NDP labour code/employment standards/WCB in their entirety). We have been clear that a UCP government would restore secret ballot union certification and tackle the stat holiday pay nightmare, but both UCP legacy parties did in fact support elements of this NDP legislation, including common-sense updates to the Employment Standards Code.”
The letter said the MDA board decided to contribute $100,000 to the Shaping Alberta’s Future PAC “to assist in the UCP 3rd party advertising campaign” and ask its member dealers to contribute to the same PAC — setting a goal of $1 million — after meeting with Kenney.
In the letter, the MDA advised that member dealers send cheques to the MDA’s Edmonton office, and the MDA would “post contribution numbers on a weekly basis.”
However, in planning to collect more than $1000 in contributions, the NDP argued, the MDA is acting as a third-party political advertiser without being a registered third party.
Dealerships in the province have donated $170,000 to the pro-UCP PAC in 2018, per filings to Elections Alberta.
The Alberta NDP claim that, in contributing to Shaping Alberta’s Future, the MDA is contravening the section of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act that says it is the contributor’s responsibility to determine that their contributions stay within any limits laid out by the Act.
Shaping Alberta’s Future (SAF) registered as a third-party political advertiser with Elections Alberta on July 20. Their mission on their website includes “[promoting] Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party.”
On their website, Shaping Alberta’s Future says donors can opt to contribute to the PAC’s political advertising or non-political advertising, the latter allowing donors to opt out of the PAC sending their name and city of residence to Elections Alberta.
The SAF also encourage supporters of Kenney and the UCP to donate to the PAC without limit, as the PAC is not under the same $4,000 donation limit for registered political parties and candidates.
In their quarterly contributions report to Elections Alberta, the SAF has received donations exceeding $4,000 from 43 donors, many of which are auto dealers.
The NDP claim SAF is using that “as a way to avoid election financing rules that restrict large individual and corporate contributions to political parties,” citing the section of the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act that says a third party is not allowed to collude with a registered party or candidate to circumvent an expense or contribution limit.
On their website, SAF does note that they review contributions on a case by case basis to prevent “the use of major gifts to financially influence politics and policies.”
Under political advertising, which SAF characterize as “[going] directly towards funding the efforts to promote Jason Kenney and the UCP,” items include door-knocking, recruiting volunteers, calling supporters, opposition research of NDP policies and candidates, and “constituency work.”
Under non-political: polling, advertising on Facebook and social media, fundraising and “overhead.”
Shaping Alberta’s Future claims political and non-political advertising represent an even split of both their revenue and expenses.
Under section 41.41 of the Act, a third-party political advertiser is not supposed to “incur expenses to engage in any of the following activities that support the work of registered parties, registered candidates, registered nomination contestants or registered leadership contestants,” including fundraising, “collecting or compiling information about electors, including data and lists, where that information is shared with registered parties [or] registered candidates” or “any other activity that would otherwise be part of the administrative activity of a registered party [or] registered candidate.”
The NDP say SAF is contravening that section of the Act.
The NDP also allege the PAC “is raising and spending money to engage in the core business of a political party.”
“Repeatedly, they detail how they will undertake such work ‘to promote Jason Kenney and the United Conservative Party but without following the rules that apply to Jason Kenney and the UCP.”
In an email statement to Global News, David Wasyluk, executive director of Shaping Alberta’s Future, said, “the complaint by the NDP is without merit.”
“We have worked proactively with officials from Elections Alberta to ensure our activities are compliant.”
If either the UCP or SAF are found guilty of circumventing expense limits, they could face fines of up to $100,000.