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Alberta budgets millions for spring senator-in-waiting vote Add to ...

Alberta taxpayers will spend more than $3-million this spring to elect three new senators-in-waiting.

That is double the cost of the 2004 campaign, and the Opposition Liberals say a committee dominated by Tories approved the budget with barely a glance.

“The cost is too high,” said Liberal critic Hugh MacDonald, who sits on the government’s standing committee on legislative offices.

“This is yet another example of why we're running a fifth (consecutive) deficit in this province, because it’s just a rubber stamp. The money is requested and it’s given with no questions asked.”

Mr. MacDonald said the government used its majority on the committee to pass, without comment, a two-line budget from Elections Alberta that asked for $2.1-million for extra pay for election workers and another $1-million for administration.

“There’s no justification for these costs,” Mr. MacDonald said. “We’re running a Senate election the same time the provincial election occurs, so surely there would be streamlining and some efficiencies.”

Tory backbencher Lindsay Blackett, the committee’s chairman, could not be reached for comment.

In the 2004 election for a senator-in-waiting, $1.2-million was allotted for extra pay and $400,000 for administration.

The committee’s recommendation is before the legislature as part of a bill for supplementary spending. It awaits only third reading.

Three senate nominees are to be picked on the same day voters go to the polls in a provincial election, which is expected to be called in a month by Premier Alison Redford.

Drew Westwater of Elections Alberta says despite the efficiencies of running two elections simultaneously, costs are higher than they were in 2004 because of inflation, a larger population and more constituencies.

Mr. Westwater noted there are two sets of ballots instead of one for the 17,000 election workers to collect, count, and report.

The administration money, he said, will be used “to prepare the forms, the training materials, the manuals and programming for our systems to accommodate reporting of a Senate election in addition to a provincial general election.”

The provincial Tories have picked three candidates to run for the three spots: Calgary lawyer Doug Black, Calgary police commission chairman Mike Shaikh and High River businessman Scott Tannas.

The Wildrose party candidate is long-time political organizer Vitor Marciano. Len Bracko, with experience in municipal and provincial politics, is running as an Independent.

The Liberals, the NDP and the Alberta Party are not running candidates. The Liberals and the Alberta Party are focusing on provincial politics, while the NDP wants the Senate scrapped.

The elections have been running for two decades as part of Alberta’s ongoing fight to improve the effectiveness and accountability of the upper house. Alberta and B.C. have a quarter of the population, for example, but just 12 seats in the 105-seat chamber.

Since 1989, three elected Alberta nominees have been named to the Senate by the federal government: Stan Waters in 1990, Bert Brown in 2007 and, most recently, Betty Unger last month.

Mr. Brown has since made headlines by running up $331,000 in travel and office expenses in 2010-11, making him the biggest spender in the chamber.

The job comes with a base salary of $132,000.

Alberta is the only province to run Senate elections.

The first two were run by its Municipal Affairs Department in conjunction with municipal elections. The 1989 vote cost $2.8-million and the 1998 campaign cost $3.5-million.

All Senate nominees must be at least 30 years old, reside in the province they represent and own property worth $4,000 more than their debts.

The spring’s election has been on hold for two years. The six-year limits on the 2004 elected senators were set to expire in 2010 before then-premier Ed Stelmach extended the time frame an extra three years.

Editor's Note: In a Feb. 17 story about the Alberta Senate vote, The Canadian Press erroneously reported that the Alberta Party favours scrapping the Senate. In fact, the Alberta Party does not have a policy on the Senate and is not running any candidates in the vote because it is choosing to focus on the upcoming provincial election.

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