Alberta’s NDP have typically been underdogs – with fewer MLAs, modest hopes on election day and a campaign warchest substantially smaller than other parties.
So, all this considered, a $5,000 cheque isn’t bad. And just such a cheque arrived in the mail, sent from TransAlta Corp., a power company.
And the NDP sent it back.
The party doesn't accept donations from major corporations, but this rejection was unusual - power prices are a key platform piece for the party and, as such, it made a point of Tweeting the decision.
“We don't accept corporate donations,” party secretary Brian Stokes said. Instead, they're funded by personal donations, labour donations and small-businesses (a group whose taxes the NDP have pledged to cut), while the other major parties rake in corporate donations. “Of course, you're not going to be able to match these big donations, but there's also a lot of freedom we have that the PCs and Wildrose don't have,” Mr. Stokes said.
Alberta deregulated its power generation market in the 1990s - a bad move, the NDP say. Power prices spiked in January on the unregulated market. Alberta also needs new power lines, and has elected to build two massive new ones between Edmonton and Calgary, paid for by ratepayers. The NDP would build smaller lines and regulate power prices - all this is TransAlta’s business.
The NDP plan to spend between $850,000 and $1-million on the campaign. By comparison, the PCs spent $3-million in 2008, and will likely spend much more this time in a battle with Wildrose.
TransAlta is typically a regular donor in Alberta politics, spending a total of $85,950 between 2004 and 2011 to the PCs, Liberals and Wildrose, according to Elections Alberta.
In 2008, an election year, it sent $17,250 to political parties - $750 to the Liberals and the rest to the PCs (but donated nothing during the actual campaign). In 2004’s election, the company donated a total of $10,900 to the PCs and Liberals. Last year, the company sent $9,000 to the Tories and $550 to Wildrose.
Why TransAlta decided now to start backing the NDP is unclear, but one thing isn't: the party is doing well.
A poll Thursday put the NDP at 20 per cent in Edmonton, where they hold their only two seats and are looking at gains - amid vote-splits that have made several races impossible to predict. They also have high hopes for a few ridings in Calgary and one in southern Alberta, in Lethbridge West. “[Voters]see that the PCs aren't infallible, they really like what we're seeing,” Mr. Stokes said. “I think you might see some real surprises in this election.”
The party has pledged to raise bitumen royalty rates, return to a progressive tax (where high earners pay a higher rate) and raise taxes on large corporations (such as TransAlta), and have released a costing sheet on what they'd do with the money.
The NDP remain, however, well back of the Progressive Conservatives and right-wing Wildrose Party province-wide - in fundraising, and in polls.