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Alberta has a New government – will it be Democratic?

NDP failed to promise to make most of the changes needed ensure democratic politics in Alberta – will they still make the changes?

Voter turnout up to about 58%, but voting system and other reforms needed as NDP won majority with support of only 23.5% of eligible voters

Elections Alberta fails to include declined ballot total in election results

Thursday, May 7, 2015

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch called on the Alberta New Democratic Party to live up to its name and make all the changes needed to ensure democratic politics across the province.

While voter turnout increased to about 58%, voting system and other key democracy and accountability reforms are needed as the NDP won a majority and 61 percent of the seats in the legislature even though it was only supported by 40.5 percent of people who voted (and only 23.5 percent of eligible voters).

Democracy Watch also called on Elections Alberta to report the number of declined ballots, and add information to its website, advertising and vote education materials to make it clear that voters in Alberta have the right to vote “none of the above” by declining their ballot under section 107.1 of the Election Act.  Elections Alberta has no information about this key right of voters on its website – it is not even mentioned anywhere in the 131-page Building Future Voters “education” booklet for Grade 12 teachers.

“Voter turnout would very likely have been higher if Elections Alberta had not been negligent in informing voters of their right to decline their ballot,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of its four nation-wide coalitions.  Elections Ontario was similarly negligent last spring during the Ontario provincial election but after Democracy Watch and others informed voters through social media, and the media covered the issue extensively, 31,399 voters declined their ballot (an increase of 1,345 percent compared to 2011).

The NDP received a D in Democracy Watch’s Report Card on the 2015 Democratic Good Government Election Platforms of the six main Alberta political parties.

“The NDP promised some key changes but nowhere near enough changes to ensure everyone in Alberta politics will, finally after 110 years, be effectively required to act honestly, ethically, openly, representatively and to prevent waste.” said Conacher.  As with every jurisdiction in Canada, about 100 specific changes are needed in Alberta to ensure democratic good government and democratic politics.

If the NDP actually wants to be not just a new but also a democratic government, the top 10 most important changes the NDP should make, for everyone (politicians, appointees, political staff, public servants) in the provincial and municipal governments and every government and government-funded institution across the province, are as follows:

  1. Enact an honesty-in-politics law that allows for complaints to the provincial Ethics Commissioner about broken promises, and about dishonest statements made anywhere (including in the legislature) by anyone involved in politics, with mandatory high fines as the penalty.
  2. Require all provincially regulated industry and service sectors (property and auto insurance, financial and investment services, health care institutions, energy and water) to include a notice in their mailings and emails to customers inviting them to join and fund citizen watchdog groups for each industry and sector, and increase royalties for all resource development sectors and put part of the increase into a fund that citizen watchdog groups jointly oversee and use for jointly decided initiatives.
  3. Establish a Public Appointments Commission whose members are approved of by the leaders of parties that receive more than 5 percent of the popular vote in the election, and require the Commission to conduct public, merit-based searches and choose a short list of candidates for all Cabinet appointments, with the Cabinet required to choose from the short list.
  4. Enact a meaningful public consultation law that requires broad, in-depth public consultation (including legislature committee hearings) before any government or government institution makes a significant decision;
  5. Ban political donations and gifts from businesses, unions and other organizations, and (as in Quebec) limit individual donations to $100 annually and establish per-vote and donation-matching public funding, and limit election spending by parties and candidates to about $1 per voter, and advertising spending by third parties to $50,000.
  6. Prohibit everyone in politics from participating in any way in any decision-making process if they have even the appearance of a conflict of interest (even if the decision applies generally), including banning anyone who leaves politics from communicating with anyone involved in politics about their decisions for 3-5 years.
  7. Require everyone in politics to disclose through an online registry any communication they have with anyone with regard to decisions they are making (to close the secret lobbying loopholes that now exist) and prohibit lobbyists from helping with political campaigns or fundraising.
  8. Change the voting system to ensure a more accurate representation of the popular vote results of each election in the seats held by each party in the legislature (and in city councilors elected) while ensuring that all elected officials are supported by, and are accountable to, voters in each riding/constituency (with a safeguard to ensure that a party with a low-level, narrow-base of support does not have a disproportionately high level of power in the legislature) – and actually fix election dates (as Britain has).
  9. Strengthen the access-to-information law and whistleblower protection by reducing loopholes, applying it to all government and government-funded institutions, requiring that records of all decisions and actions be disclosed regularly, and giving the Information Commissioner the power and mandate to order disclosure (as in B.C., Ontario and Quebec) and changes to government institutions’ information systems (as in Britain), and to penalize violators, and by strengthening the rules and empowering the Public Interest Commissioner to protect all whistleblowers in the public and private sectors.
  10. Reduce waste by prohibiting omnibus budget bills, and empowering the Auditor General to: audit all government and government-funded institutions; audit projected spending to ensure truth-in-budgetting; prohibit government advertising if it is misleading or partisan; order changes to clean up the financial management of any institution, and; penalize violators of spending or procurement rules.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
[email protected]